DAMASCUS (Reuters) – Syria said on Wednesday it was suspending diplomatic cooperation with France on ending the political crisis in Lebanon, after similar action by Paris.
Paris has accused Damascus of not promoting a deal that could fill a vacuum in the Lebanese presidency and end an opposition boycott of the government.
“It seems that the French want to blame Syria for their failure … to reach a solution to the crisis,” Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem told reporters.
“Accordingly, Syria has decided to stop cooperation.”
French President Nicolas Sarkozy ordered his government last week to halt diplomatic contacts with Syria over what he described as Damascus’s failure to show it was working for a consensus solution after two months of contacts with France.
Moualem said Syria, which backs the Lebanese opposition led by the Shi’ite Hezbollah movement, had contributed to efforts to reach consensus, including convincing opposition politicians to accept Army General Michel Suleiman as president, a post that has been vacant since November.
Syria, he said, had agreed with France on a compromise that would give the Hezbollah-led opposition veto power in a new cabinet but that Saad al-Hariri, who leads a majority parliamentary bloc, refused to sign on.
“Those who think that Syria will pressure the Lebanese opposition so that the majority monopolizes power are deluding themselves,” Moualem said.
“We have been offered lots of temptations, including an economic deal with the European Union. But what is the use of such gains if Lebanon ends up mired in chaos?”
The Lebanon crisis pits the pro-Western government against opposition groups backed by Syria and Iran.
Paris has been leading efforts to mediate a settlement to the latest crisis and had offered to raise levels of diplomatic and economic cooperation with Syria in return for its help.
Ties between the two countries plummeted following the 2005 assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri, that eventually led to the withdrawal of Syrian forces from Lebanon after a 29 year presence.