CAIRO (Reuters) – French President Nicolas Sarkozy said on Sunday he had told his government to suspend diplomatic contacts with Syria until Paris has proof that Damascus is working for a consensus president in Lebanon.
Speaking in Egypt after talks with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, Sarkozy said he had no regrets about his previous contacts with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad but the time had come for deeds rather than words from Syria.
“We cannot wait any longer. Syria must stop talking, must demonstrate (with deeds),” he said.
“I will not make any more contacts with Syria … (and ) all of my colleagues … as long as there is no proof of Syria’s will to let Lebanon choose a consensus president,” he added.
Lebanon has had no president since November 23 due to disagreements between the anti-Syrian ruling coalition and the Damascus-backed opposition over the country’s political orientation.
Rival leaders have agreed on army chief General Michel Suleiman as a consensus candidate to be president but they are still wrangling over how to share power once he takes office.
The conflict reflects a regional struggle for influence between Syria and Iran on one side, and the United States and its European and Arab allies on the other.
France played a lead role in mediating the agreement on Suleiman’s candidacy and has been frustrated that the deal has not yet gone through.
President Mubarak told the same news conference with Sarkozy that it was unacceptable that Lebanon should go for months without a president and this could lead to unspecified complications.
He appealed to Syria to use its influence in Lebanon to make sure parliament elects a new president.
“I ask Syria to intervene with the influence that it basically has in Lebanon to work to create agreement,” he said.
Sarkozy has been in Egypt since Christmas Day, most of the time on holiday in the southern town of Luxor or the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh with his girlfriend Carla Bruni.
The French opposition have criticised Sarkozy for allowing his friend, businessman Vincent Bollore, to pay some of the costs. Bollore provided Sarkozy’s private plane.
Asked to comment on the criticism, Sarkozy said he would deal with such questions at a news conference on January 8.
Sarkozy and Mubarak, who had good relationships with both of Sarkozy’s predecessors, said they had discussed the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and peace talks launched at the Annapolis peace conference last month, the Darfur conflict, Somalia, and Pakistan after the assassination of opposition leader Benazir Bhutto last week.
Sarkozy defended his Middle East policy, seen in the Arab world as more favourable to Israel than that of his predecessors. He said Israel should make “some gestures” towards Palestinians by suspending work on settlements.
Sarkozy repeated that France was willing to cooperate with Egyptian plans to develop nuclear power for civilian use.
Mubarak, asked about Egypt’s intentions towards Palestinian pilgrims trying to get back to Gaza after returning from Mecca, said Egypt wanted to find a solution behind the scenes.
The Palestinians want to go back to Gaza without passing through Israeli controls, in the same way as some of them left Gaza, but Israel says it insists on security checks.
“Those Palestinians are our brothers. We’ll find them a solution, but let’s not have any loudmouthing. Negotiations won’t work that way,” Mubarak said.