French President Nicolas Sarkozy will meet Syrian President Bashar al-Assad on Thursday to discuss how Lebanon can avert renewed violence if a UN tribunal indicts members of Hezbollah in the 2005 assassination of Lebanese premier Rafik al-Hariri.
REUTERS - Syrian President Bashar al-Assad flew to Paris on Wednesday to meet President Nicolas Sarkozy ahead of expected indictments by an international tribunal that could trigger new violence in Lebanon.
Diplomats said Sarkozy would present proposals at talks with Assad on Thursday on how Lebanon's politicians should deal with the indictments over the 2005 killing of prime minister Rafik al-Hariri.
"Sarkozy is desperate for a foreign policy success and he will present some ideas to Assad," one diplomat said. "The French have been keen on breaking Syria's isolation because they believe that Assad can be crucial to Lebanon's stability".
The group, part of a fragile national unity government, denies involvement in the Hariri killing and Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah has said he will not allow the arrest of any members. He has called on Lebanese Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri, Rafik's son and an ally of Saudi Arabia and the West, to repudiate the tribunal. Sectarian rhetoric has increased in the past few months as rumours swirl about the timing of the indictments. Some Lebanese politicians have warned of a possible relapse into violence when the indictments are issued. Ali Abdul Karim, Syria's ambassador in Beirut, said Lebanon will be discussed during the Assad-Sarkozy talks.
"Lebanon certainly matters to France just as it matters to Syria and the Lebanese file will be on the agenda of talks between the two presidents," he told reporters after meeting Hariri.
France stepped in after Saudi King Abdullah fell ill, diplomats said.
Diplomats in Damascus and Beirut expect the prosecutor of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon, based in the Netherlands, to issue draft indictments as early as this week.
Their contents will not be made public, tribunal spokesman Crispin Thorold said, and a pre-trial judge will take around two months to decide whether to approve them -- at which point they may or may not be published. Media reports of leaked U.S. diplomatic cables have also fuelled Lebanese scepticism over the tribunal's impartiality.
The Daily Star newspaper on Monday quoted a U.N. investigator casting doubt on the legal basis for detaining four generals who were held for four years without charge. Cables cited by the Daily Star and Al-Akhbar newspaper also revealed the investigators repeatedly sought assistance from the United States, including requests for intelligence, wire-tapping capabilities, satellite imagery and criminal analysts.
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