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Syria calls for joint efforts to encourage Lebanon solution
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09:09, March 31, 2008

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Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Muallem on Sunday called on Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries to work with his country in efforts to find a solution to the Lebanese political crisis.

Muallem made the remarks at a joint press conference with Arab League Secretary General Amr Moussa after the conclusion of the two-day 20th Arab summit here.

"Syria alone, or Saudi Arabia alone, can't find a solution to the Lebanese issue, but by a Syrian-Saudi effort backed by the Arab countries ... we can encourage the Lebanese to conduct a dialogue," Muallem stated.

"The Lebanese issue is basically a Lebanese-Lebanese one," the Syrian top diplomat said, in response to the recent statement of Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal on Lebanon.

"As we talk about sovereignty and independence, let the Lebanese practice their rights in sovereignty and reach a consensus among themselves," Muallem added.

The Lebanese issue has been discussed during the closed-door meeting of the summit, said Muallem, noting that the Arab leaders saw it as not acceptable dealing with this issue in the absence of Lebanon.

"But during the foreign ministers meeting, the Arabs approved the Arab initiative, underlining support to the efforts of Amr Moussa in this regard," he added.

The Arab initiative, which was approved in Cairo in January, calls for the immediate election of army chief Gen. Michel Suleiman as president, formation of a unity government and adoption of an electoral law.

At a news conference on Saturday in Riyadh, Faisal denied that Arab countries were trying to isolate Syria over the Lebanese crisis, describing Syria as "one of the important countries in the region" and part of common Arab action.

He called for Syria's "positive move" to complement the efforts exerted by Saudi Arabia and a number of Arab countries to break the deadlock in Lebanon.

"We hope ... the summit will come up with a solution to the Lebanese crisis in keeping with the Arab League's initiative," said Faisal.

Saudi Arabia, together with Egypt and Jordan, only sent low-level delegations to the Damascus summit in a snub to Syria, which has been blamed of blocking the presidential election in Lebanon, an allegation denied by Damascus. Lebanon boycotted the summit.

Lebanon is currently facing the most serious political deadlock since the end of the 1975-1990 civil war, where the presidential seat has been vacant since last November when former President Emile Lahoud stepped down.

A long-awaited parliamentary session to elect a new president to succeed Lahoud has been postponed for 17 times till April 22 as rival parties fail to iron out their differences.

The Lebanese rivals have agreed on the election of Army Chief Michel Suleiman as president, but still disputed over the make-up of a cabinet after his election and the law governing a general election scheduled for 2009.


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