Mikati in Paris for talks

Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati arrived in Paris Sunday for talks with French President Francois Hollande on the political crisis in Lebanon and how to protect the country from the reverberations of the 20-month-old bloody conflict in Syria.

In Beirut, President Michel Sleiman is continuing consultations with political leaders in an attempt to convene a new session of National Dialogue scheduled for later this month. The talks aim to resolve the political crisis sparked by last month’s assassination of police intelligence chief Brig. Gen. Wissam al-Hasan.

“The president is continuing consultations to convene National Dialogue on Nov. 29,” a source at Baabda Palace told The Daily Star.

However, the source said he was not sure whether Sleiman would proceed with the session given the March 14 coalition’s insistence on the government’s resignation as a condition for attending any talks with the Hezbollah-led March 8 alliance.

Mikati’s three-day official visit to France, which begins Monday, is bound to give the prime minister a political boost in the face of blistering campaigns and repeated calls by March 14 for the resignation of his government.

It also comes two weeks after Hollande paid a short visit to Beirut during which he pledged to protect Lebanon against threats of destabilization caused by the fallout of the turmoil in neighboring Syria and praised Sleiman’s efforts to preserve stability and national unity. Mikati, accompanied by a number ministers, is scheduled to meet his French counterpart Jean Marc Ayrault Monday before holding talks with Hollande at the Elysee Palace Wednesday.

Mikati’s talks with Hollande will center on the political crisis in Lebanon amid March 14 calls for the formation of “a neutral salvation government” and the repercussions of the Syrian conflict on Lebanon, political sources said.

On the eve of this visit, Mikati, who has rejected March 14 calls to step down, offered to cooperate with the opposition in an attempt to explore a solution for the political crisis sparked by Hasan’s assassination.

“I am going to Paris and my hand is extended to [parties] inside Lebanon, particularly the opposition. But until any common solution is reached, the government will continue its productivity and will follow up on political stability and security in the country and be open to the international community. This visit comes in this context,” Mikati said in remarks published by An-Nahar newspaper Sunday.

He said he was carrying “ideas” in various fields for his talks in Paris, at the forefront of these is to call on French officials to show understanding and support the Lebanese government’s dissociation policy on the crisis in Syria.

Mikati added that economic, media and cultural agreements, including an agreement for the exchange of media expertise and others relating to electricity, infrastructure, youth and sports and the rehabilitation of the National Library, will be signed by the relevant ministers from both countries during the visit.

In Paris, French Foreign Ministry spokesman Philippe Lalliot said Mikati’s visit came in the framework of “strong ties between Lebanon and France.”

“The ties between the two countries have recently witnessed several visits with two goals. First, to support Lebanon’s sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity, and second, to support the Lebanese institutions in order to prevent the reverberations of the crisis in Syria on Lebanon,” Lalliot told reporters.

Sleiman again urged the rival parties to participate in National Dialogue, saying the talks should not be conditional. “Dialogue should be unconditional and not just temporary,” he added in a statement Saturday.

Sleiman also received a letter from U.S. President Barack Obama congratulating him on Lebanon’s Independence Day which falls on Thursday.

In the letter, Obama hailed Sleiman’s efforts to support the country’s sovereignty and stability.The letter said the U.S. highly appreciated its ties with Lebanon and its people and that amid both local and regional challenges facing the country, the Obama administration reiterated its support for the country’s sovereignty and stability.

Meanwhile, the Progressive Socialist Party led by MP Walid Jumblatt is preparing to launch a political initiative aimed at bridging the gap between the March 8 and March 14 parties to protect civil peace in the country.

“In the face of the big national crisis, the PSP is planning to announce a new initiative aimed basically at warding off the horror of strife from Lebanon,” Public Works Minister Ghazi Aridi told the Voice of Lebanon radio station.

Aridi, one of three ministers representing the PSP in the government, said PSP delegations would visit political leaders to brief them on the proposed initiative. “The PSP will strive to reconcile the politicians’ viewpoints and prod them into consultations,” he added.


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