NAQURA, Lebanon (AFP) – The foreign ministers of France, Italy and Spain on Saturday reiterated their commitment toward ending a long-running political crisis in Lebanon that is blocking the election of a president.
Speaking at the base of the UN peacekeeping force UNIFIL in south Lebanon, France’s Bernard Kouchner, Massimo D’Alema of Italy and Spain’s Miguel Angel Moratinos told reporters they would impress upon Lebanese leaders during their one-day visit the importance of breaking the political deadlock that marks the country’s worst political crisis since the end of the 1975-1990 civil war.
“Today is an important and historical visit,” Moratinos said at a brief press conference at the UNIFIL headquarters in Naqura where the three ministers visited their countries’ contingents.
“The three Euro-Mediterranean countries came together with the same purpose — to help, assist and to commit themselves for peace and stability in Lebanon.
“It’s a very strong sign that the three countries come at a very timely moment where Lebanon has to look forward for hope and peace in Lebanon and the region,” he added.
The ministers were to meet in the afternoon with the Western-backed Prime Minister Fuad Siniora and with parliament speaker Nabih Berri, a leading member of the opposition, which includes factions backed by Syria and Iran.
Their visit comes just days ahead of a special session in parliament on Tuesday to elect a president to replace the current pro-Syrian head of state Emile Lahoud, whose term ends on November 24.
A first parliamentary session in September was postponed due to disagreement between the ruling majority and Hezbollah-led opposition, and it is feared that Tuesday’s session will also end in failure.
The three ministers said the international community was committed to helping Lebanon end its political crisis.
“This common endeavour is a sign of the strong political will for peace and stability,” D’Alema said.
“This afternoon we are going to meet the main political leaders, of course not because we want to interfere in the Lebanese political life but because we want, as friends of Lebanon, to encourage the dialogue and the search of a national agreement in order to provide stability and stengthen the democracy in this country.”
Italy, France and Spain contribute the largest number of soldiers to the UNIFIL force in south Lebanon that was bolstered after last year’s devastating 34-day war between Israel and the Shiite militant group Hezbollah.
The United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon counts about 13,500 troops along with 1,000 civilian employees, compared to only 2,000 before the July 12, 2006 outbreak of the war.