WASHINGTON, (AP) -Lebanon’s democratic government apparently cannot convene a promised tribunal to address the assassination of a leading politician, and the United States may ask the United Nations Security Council to step in, U.S. officials said Friday.
The State Department’s top Mideast diplomat suggested the U.S.-backed government in Beirut is partly to blame for a political impasse over the international tribunal.
“It appears that because of interference from the outside, indecision inside and opposition inside, that Lebanon’s normal constitutional processes cannot address this matter,” said Assistant Secretary of State David Welch.
The weak government of Prime Minister Fuad Saniora has demanded the tribunal be created, but the opposition parliament speaker has stalled on convening the legislature to approve the court. The deadlock threatens Saniora’s government.
Although Saniora is admired for standing up to pro-Syrian forces and the political and militia group Hezbollah, Western diplomats have expressed disappointment that he has not resolved the crisis.
The U.S. and other members of the U.N. Security Council would prefer that Lebanon run the tribunal under its own laws, but several diplomats have said the council could establish its own independent panel if necessary.
“If it’s not possible to do this through Lebanon’s normal constitutional processes, then the United States and others will find another way to do it,” Welch told reporters at a State Department briefing.
The panel to prosecute suspects in the 2005 assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri was meant to clear the air in Lebanon’s fractured and suspicious political culture but has instead become a defining symbol for the country’s difficulties.
The struggle over the tribunal has included sit-ins, street clashes and killings that led many to fear the country was returning to the violence of the 1975-90 civil war.
The Hezbollah-led opposition has led protests outside the prime minister’s office — to try to force him to resign or share power in a coalition that would give the opposition veto power.
Lebanon’s anti-Syrian faction blames Damascus for the massive truck bombing that killed Hariri and 22 other people and claims the Syrians are using their Lebanese allies, including Hezbollah, to undermine the formation of the tribunal. Syria denies the accusations.
U.S. officials, said the United States, probably with France, could sponsor a new mandatory Security Council resolution to set up a tribunal patterned on previous prosecuting panels for the former Yugoslavia, Rwanda, Sierra Leone and Cambodia.
The United Nations and the Lebanese government agreed last year on terms of the tribunal, and the U.N. version would probably use the same guidelines, said the U.S. officials who spoke on condition of anonymity because the process is preliminary.
The U.N. legal chief was in Beirut this week to prod the feuding leaders to ratify the tribunal, warning that their agreement is necessary to avert possible U.N. Security Council intervention.
Nicolas Michel, the U.N. undersecretary-general for legal affairs who helped draft the treaty on the tribunal, is expected to brief the Security Council as soon as next week.
The United States will wait for that discussion before deciding what to do next.
The Bush administration has pointed to Lebanon as perhaps the best example of democratic change in the Middle East.
The killing of Hariri, who had tried to peel his country away from decades of Syrian domination, emboldened anti-Syrian forces. Massive street demonstrations and international pressure eventually forced Syria to withdraw forces from Lebanon, and helped propel Saniora to power.