Annan urges Syria, Iran to aid Lebanese stability

Date: 11-18-06

By Irwin Arieff

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan pressed Syria and Iran on Saturday to help promote the stability of Lebanon after the resignation of six of its government ministers.

Annan spoke by telephone with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Syrian head of state Bashar al-Assad about developments in Lebanon and the need for governments in the region and around the world "to promote the stability and the unity of Lebanon," U.N. chief spokesman Stephane Dujarric said.

Annan, who was traveling in St. Gallen, Switzerland, urged the two presidents to counsel Lebanon's leaders "to exercise patience and resolve their differences through dialogue," Dujarric said.

Five ministers from Shi'ite groups Hezbollah and Amal quit the Lebanese Cabinet a week ago when talks over giving the opposition a greater say in government collapsed. A sixth minister, loyal to pro-Syrian President Emile Lahoud, resigned on Monday.

The resignations have thrown the government of anti-Syrian prime minister Fouad Siniora into crisis, raising questions about its legitimacy under Lebanon's complex Constitution.

The United States has accused Tehran and Damascus of fueling pressure to bring about its collapse. The West accuses Iran and Syria of backing guerillas from the Hezbollah movement, which has long controlled southern Lebanon, feeding tensions with Israel and leading to a 34-day war which ended in a U.N.-brokered cease-fire on August 14.

One casualty of the government crisis could be plans for a U.N. tribunal to try suspects in the murder of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri.

Hariri was killed by a suicide truck bombing in Beirut in February 2005, sparking anti-Syrian protests and eventually the end of Syria's long-running military presence in Lebanon.

A U.N. investigation, which is continuing, has implicated Lebanese and Syrian security officials, although Syria denies any role in the bombing.

The United Nations developed plans for an international court for the case after Siniora told Annan the Lebanese justice system could not handle it.

Annan submitted the plans to the government this month, but the six ministers resigned before they could be taken up.

The remaining ministers approved the court blueprint last Monday and sent it back to Annan and the Security Council for final U.N. approval.

But Lahoud promptly wrote Annan that the approval had been illegitimate.

The 15-nation Security Council meets on Monday to consider the plan and whether the government's approval was valid.

Russian U.N. Ambassador Vitaly Churkin said last week Moscow wanted to check to make sure the government approval had been legitimate.


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