November 24, 2009 Special Dispatch No. 2641

Board Chairman of Pro-Syrian Lebanese Daily Writes about Assad-Abdallah Summit

November 24, 2009
Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Syria | Special Dispatch No. 2641

In an article published November 2, 2009 in the pro-Syrian Lebanese daily Al-Akhbar, which is identified with the opposition, Ibrahim Al-Amin, chairman of the newspaper's executive board, described the understandings on Lebanon that were reached by Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad and Saudi King Abdallah in meetings October 7-8, 2009 in Damascus. He also wrote on how each of the leaders explained the agreements to his allies in Lebanon. The effort to reach understandings on Lebanon came after five months in which the March 14 Forces and the Hizbullah-led Lebanese opposition failed in their attempts to form a national unity government - a failure that stemmed mainly from the demands and conditions presented by General Michel Aoun for joining the government.

Following are excerpts from Al-Amin's article:

Assad, Abdallah Agree to Create "Positive Atmosphere"

Al-Amin quoted a knowledgeable Syrian source as saying that Assad and Abdallah both realized during their Damascus summit that "circumstances do not permit the consolidation of an inclusive initiative," because the U.S. is unwilling to back such an initiative at this time. However, the source said that "both parties were interested in finding a suitable framework to facilitate the formation of a unity government in Lebanon; thus, they agreed on the principal of 'creating a positive atmosphere that will further [this aim], and that [each of them] would maintain the necessary contacts in this context.'"

Assad to Abdallah: We Won't Pressure Aoun to Back Down

Al-Amin's source noted: "The Syrian leadership spoke with great openness to the Saudis on the situation in Lebanon, clarifying that no element was capable of pressuring Aoun [to back down from his conditions for joining the government], despite Saudi Arabia's request to do so. Assad explained at length that relations between Damascus and Gen. Aoun [were only recently established] and that Damascus respects Aoun's bold decision to end his dispute with Syria and his attempt to build good relations with it. Likewise, Syria respects Aoun's unwillingness to turn Lebanon into an arena for anti-Syrian activity by any internal, regional, or international element.

"Assad explained how Syria sees the Lebanese reality, saying that no element in the opposition, particularly Hizbullah, could pressure Aoun. Assad also clarified, several times, that Syria, like the opposition forces in Lebanon, understands Gen. Aoun's positions and demands, and thinks that he is right; moreover, they think that he deserves much more than [Sa'd Al-Hariri] is offering him. Therefore, there is no reason to pressure him, and also there is no way of doing so.

"At the same time, Assad stressed to the king that he would conduct contacts aimed at realizing their agreement to 'spread a positive atmosphere,' and the king undertook to do likewise."

Al-Hariri Understood From Abdallah That He Must Make Concessions

The article continued: "[King] Abdallah returned to Riyadh and asked that [Sa'd] Al-Hariri be summoned; he told him clearly, in the spirit of his understanding with Assad, that there is a need to initiate and consolidate a mechanism that will lead to understandings with the opposition forces. [Abdallah also] encouraged [Al-Hariri] to hold a direct and practical dialogue with Gen. Aoun.

"Al-Hariri interpreted these messages as a veiled appeal [by Abdallah] to make concessions, with the aim of persuading Aoun to participate in the government - since there is no chance of forming a unity government without him.

"Likewise, since it is not possible to form a government with only one Lebanese side [that is, the March 14 Forces], Al-Hariri heard clear Saudi statements, according to which there is a need to find the best possible mechanisms for obtaining [these] results. He also heard [from Abdallah] a detailed explanation on Syria's commitment to help put the government together.

"In relaying these messages to his allies and associates, Al-Hariri told them that Assad had undertaken to Abdallah not to 'thwart the formation of the government.'

"Al-Hariri was also told [by Abdallah] that that Syria does not want to thwart his plans [as prime minister in Lebanon's new government] and likewise does not want to remove him [from his post] - on the contrary, it seeks to improve relations with him. This led Al-Hariri to explain to his allies and associates that there must be no more blaming Syria for sabotaging [the formation of the Lebanese government]..."

Assad Clarified to Opposition Members That He Does Not Expect Concessions from Them

"In Damascus, Assad received Al-Hajj Hussein Al-Khalil, political aide to Hizbullah secretary general Hassan Nasrallah, and also [Lebanese] MP Ali Hassan Khalil, political aide to [Lebanese parliamentary] speaker Nabih Berri. Assad clarified to the two, and later explained to Lebanese MP Suleiman Frangieh, what had been agreed [between him and] the Saudi king, and also explained the scope of these understandings.

"According to knowledgeable sources, Assad was clear when he stressed [to them] that there was no initiative or understanding regarding any specific detail, and that [the understanding with Abdallah] was limited to 'spreading a positive atmosphere.' Asked what this meant, Assad encouraged [the Lebanese officials]... to adopt a new approach that could ease the situation. But he later reiterated that he had not asked the opposition to make concessions, or to take steps that would affect its position or status..."

Further on in the article, Al-Amin stated that following the Abdallah-Assad meeting, Sa'd Al-Hariri expected Gen. Aoun to say something during their meeting regarding concessions, or anything else that would indicate that he had received a message from Syria. But Aoun explained to Al-Hariri that no one could force him to make concessions. Aoun, Al-Amin wrote, also appealed to Syria for clarification as to why Al-Hariri expected concessions from him, and was told that the understandings between Saudi Arabia and Syria did not oblige anyone to make concessions on their rights, and it up to him to decide what was the suitable way to facilitate the formation of the government.

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