Paris, Asharq Al-Awsat-The Lebanese dossier returns to France prominently today when President Jacques Chirac receives at the Elysee Palace his Egyptian counterpart Hosni Mubarak who made a lightning visit to Saudi Arabia yesterday. Egyptian sources in Cairo yesterday asserted that President Mubarak would discuss with President Chirac the developments in the Lebanese-Syrian issue.
High-level official French sources told “Asharq al-Awsat” that the Lebanese-Syrian dossier would be the main issue in the Chirac-Mubarak talks at a working lunch. The Egyptian president’s visit to the French capital comes as signs of a major crisis loom on the horizon between Syria and the international commission investigating the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri after the commission’s demand to listen to the testimony of the Syrian president and to question Foreign Minister Farouk al-Sharaa.
Diplomatic reports received in Paris, parts of which were seen by “Asharq al-Awsat”, indicate that Egypt “is confounded” by the developments in the Lebanese-Syrian dossier. On one hand, “it has no illusions about the Syrian regime” and on the other hand “it does not want the developments to undermine the stability in the region.”
According to the same sources, the Egyptian president comes to Paris “to consult with the French president and learn about our analysis and view of the present and future developments and also our assessment of US policy and a review of all possible eventualities.” The French sources concluded that President Mubarak “is consulting and does not have a magic wand for getting Syria out of the new predicament in which it finds itself.”
Regarding US policy, the French sources stressed that the “United States’ priority is the investigation, reaching its conclusions, determining the party responsible for Al-Hariri’s assassination, and bringing the defendants to justice.” The French sources’ summing up of this point is that “there are absolutely no efforts to restore the link politically with Damascus before the investigation is completed as there is a judicial process that has not ended yet and stopping it is absolutely out of the question.”
The French sources touched on Syria’s desire to sign a cooperation protocol with the international investigation commission that sets up a framework for the relationship with it. They said Paris “is not enthusiastic” about such a protocol because it means “more wasted time and delay” and because “we know when the negotiations begin but do not know when they will end.” Moreover, Paris believes “there is no need for the above protocol from the legal point of view” and what interests the French authorities “is Syria’s unconditional cooperation with the commission” in accordance with the relevant international resolutions.
Paris answers the Syrian argument demanding the protocol, like the one between Lebanon and the commission, by saying that the latter “is staying on Lebanese territory and investigating a crime that took place in Lebanon and therefore the situation is totally different from what it is in Syria.” Additionally, the commission does not have to sign such protocols “with all the countries whose cooperation it wants.” The French sources warned that the demand for a protocol “is a two-edged sword because Syria’s demand for it puts it in a special position, that is, that of the defendant” and this is something “it is trying to keep away from.” Officially, Paris stands behind the investigation commission, concerning the cooperation protocol or concerning listening to President Al-Assad, Al-Sharaa, and others. French Foreign Ministry Spokesman Jean-Baptiste Mattei said yesterday that the commission “decides the persons it wants to question and we do not intervene in then lists it is preparing and which the UN Security Council (UNSC) authorized it to prepare. It is the one that looks into the immunity of President Al-Asad under international law and the relevant UNSC resolutions.”
The French sources denied that Paris “played any role” in (former Syrian Vice President Abdul Halim) Khaddam’s interview and stressed that “France stays away from these developments “which it looks at from afar and does not intervene in them.”
Informed Arab sources in Cairo did not rule out the possibility of the Syrian president receiving the international investigation commission and pointed out the meeting would happen when he receives the commission’s new chairman who succeeded Detlev Mehlis and not within the context of the investigation or questioning but that of consultations and cooperation with the commission, similar to what happened with Lebanese President Emile Lahhud. The sources also did not rule out the possibility of Syria agreeing to let the commission meet Minister Al-Shar’a inside Syria or in a European capital.
A commission spokeswoman reported that the commission had asked to meet President Al-Assad and Minister Al-Sharaa in the wake of Khaddam’s interview in which he criticized the regime in Syria.