French envoy ends Lebanon visit with few signs of progress

July 26, 2007 - 0:0

BEIRUT (AFP) - Top French diplomat Jean-Claude Cousseran on Wednesday wrapped up a three-day mission without making much progress in breaking an eight-month deadlock among Lebanon's feuding political parties.

Cousseran told reporters that his meetings with Lebanese leaders were useful and aimed at paving the way for a Beirut visit this weekend by French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner. He did not elaborate. But several sources said Cousseran's efforts were hampered by the refusal of the powerful Shiite Hezbollah party, which leads the opposition, to agree to join discussions with rival factions in Lebanon. ""I believe Hezbollah does not want to move forward on a meeting in Beirut among the country's political parties,"" said Youth Minister Ahmad Fatfat, who is a member of the anti-Syrian majority in parliament. Another member of the majority told AFP on condition of anonymity that it was suggested to Cousseran that talks similar to the ones held in France among all the rival parties take place in Beirut, but Hezbollah refused. The July 14-15 meeting at Saint Cloud, near Paris, sought to nudge the parties into ending a crisis that threatens to scuttle presidential elections set for September, thus plunging the country further into chaos. Nawaf Musawi, in charge of international relations for Hezbollah, said his party was keen on the French initiative succeeding, but that this could only take place once a government of national unity was formed. ""We must not waste time in discussions,"" Musawi told AFP. ""A national unity government must be put in place and it would be up to that government to discuss lingering problems."" Hezbollah is pushing for the opposition to be better represented in government in order to give it veto power. The majority, however, is demanding that the opposition beforehand stop blocking parliamentary sessions in order to ensure the quorum needed for the presidential elections to replace President Emile Lahoud. Cousseran has met with officials from across the political spectrum since his arrival in Lebanon on Monday, including representatives from Hezbollah. On Wednesday, he met with parliament speaker Nabih Berri, a member of the Shiite opposition, and said the two had discussed Cousseran's recent visit to Syria, Egypt and Saudi Arabia. ""We had a lengthy and useful conversation that touched on the recent conference in Saint Cloud,"" Cousseran told reporters. ""We also discussed my meetings in neighboring countries and with a number of Lebanese officials.