BEIRUT, (Reuters) – Lebanon faces the danger of new civil strife if the 8-month-old political crisis is not resolved through talks soon, French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said on Saturday.
Kouchner said he had made some progress in talks with rival Lebanese leaders in Beirut in a bid to persuade them to resume dialogue on ending the standoff between the Western-backed government and the Hezbollah-led opposition. “But that doesn’t mean everything has been settled. Far from it,” Kouchner told reporters after meeting Parliament Speaker Nadib Berri, an opposition leader close to Syria. “If the Lebanese do not resume this essential dialogue, unfortunately there will be more war.”
Kouchner also met Prime Minister Fouad Siniora. He had met both leaders after arriving on Friday.
Kouchner is trying to build on a tentative dialogue among Lebanese leaders whose representatives met in Paris earlier this month for talks billed as an attempt to break the ice between loyalists and the opposition.
Lebanese political sources and analysts expect little from his trip because of the complexities of the crisis and the external links of local players with forces like Syria, Iran and the United States.
Political sources said Kouchner would meet the participants in the Paris talks together later on Saturday and more senior leaders individually, including Hezbollah officials. But his wish to bring the leaders together appears to be out of reach because the two camps’ positions are still far apart.
Lebanon plunged into political deadlock in November when all five Shi’ite ministers and one Christian quit Siniora’s cabinet over opposition demands for veto power in government.
Siniora, with U.S., European and Sunni Arab support, resisted opposition demands for his resignation.
The latest focus for rivalry between the ruling majority and its opponents is a parliament session on Sept. 25 to choose a new president to replace pro-Syrian incumbent Emile Lahoud.
Many fear that Lebanon could plunge into civil strife if no successor is elected before Lahoud’s term ends on November 24.