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Lebanon Holds National Reconciliation Talks


Lebanon's top political leaders are meeting at the presidential palace in a bid to reach a national reconciliation pact among feuding factions. Attempts to get the pro-Iranian Hezbollah to disarm, however, are threatening to derail the talks, as Edward Yeranian reports for VOA from Beirut.

Fourteen of Lebanon's top political leaders have been meeting at the country's presidential palace, overlooking Beirut, amid tight security, in a bid to resolve months of bickering and political paralysis. President Michel Suleiman, who was elected in May following a political agreement in Qatar, is heading up the talks.

President Suleiman began the round-table meeting with a plea to rival politicians to come up with an agreement for the sake of the country.

Mr. Suleiman says that in agreeing to these talks the leaders agree that no matters are off-limits, but that all issues are open to discussion and agreement. He said the one thing that is forbidden, however, is failure or stalemate.

The main topic of debate, and principal subject of discord, is what to do about Hezbollah's military arsenal, amid demands from Lebanon's pro-Western "March 14th alliance" that the group disarm. But Hezbollah, backed by Syria and Iran, is insisting that its military wing be made part of Lebanon's official national defense strategy.

Lebanon's first reconciliation talks in June 2006 ended without agreement, and were followed by a bloody summer war between Israel and Hezbollah. A second attempt at reconciliation in May of this year brought an end to 18 months of political feuding with the election of President Suleiman and the formation of a national unity government.

Al-Jazeera Television reports that Hezbollah is asking to enlarge the talks to include more participants, while Saad Hariri, parliamentary leader of the March 14th Alliance, is calling the maneuver a tactic to allow Hezbollah to legitimize its armed presence.

Hezbollah leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah is not attending the talks, due to security reasons, and his party's parliamentary chief, Mohammed Raad, is taking his place. Arab League Secretary General Amr Moussa is also attending.

Beirut's Daily Star newspaper asked rhetorically, in today's editorial, if President Suleiman can keep Lebanon's politicians from destroying their country?

Dory Chamoun, who heads Lebanon's National Liberal Party, part of the March 14th Alliance, argues that past attempts at reaching a national accord do not leave him optimistic that a solution will be reached, this time around.

"I am not terribly optimistic because of what happened before. We have already had two reconciliation reunions," said Chamoun. "One was in Lebanon, the other one was at Doha, and they were not respected 100 percent, the way they should have been."

No deadline has been set on when the reconciliation talks will end. Another session is to be held October 5.