In a surprise visit, the US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright boarding a US helicopter in Cyprus, arrived at 1:10 p.m. today at the Baabda Presidential Palace, heading by road from the US Embassy in Aukar. At 1: 20 p.m., Albright met with President Elias Hrawi, Prime Minister Hariri and Foreign Minister Fares Boueiz. The meeting was also attended by the accompanying US delegation, the US Ambassador to Lebanon Richard Jones, and the Lebanese Foreign Ministry's Secretary General Zafer Hassan.
After the meeting, Albright highlighted that "Lebanon is in the right direction". She said, "I had the honor to have a look at Beirut and this Palace in particular. We want to work with the Lebanese government and people to implement law and rightness.Lebanon is a vital and necessary message of coexistence".
In a brief statement, Albright also said, "it was very convenient to end my tour of the region in Beirut". Describing her meeting with the Lebanese officials as "excellent", she said, "Lebanon is a friendly country, and the US is trying in every way to help in reviving and reconstructing it". She said that she will definitely return to Lebanon to follow up supporting the process of progress and reconstruction. She also affirmed the US commitment to Lebanon's causes and the Lebanese track, which, she said, is "basic to the Middle East peace process", and have the support of the United States.
Albright later headed to the "Forum of Beirut" where she had an open meeting with a number of Lebanese political, information and business personalities. The open meeting aimed at getting her acquainted with the various viewpoints of the Lebanese community. A joint press conference with Foreign Minster Boueiz and a luncheon hosted by the US Embassy followed the meeting.
In the press conference, Albright expressed the following views:
1. During my meetings in the past week, I urged Prime Minister Netanyahu and Chairman Arafat to proceed on the basis of mutual respect and mutual responsibility. The Palestinian authority must do absolutely all it can to rule out terror and create a climate of security within which peace may be pursued. That is paramount. But in order that prodigal environment of negotiations may be established, we have called on the government of Israel to refrain from unilateral actions that undermine confidence and the World trust. In the end, Israelis and Palestinians must recognize that the only way to create future stability, security and peace for either side is to do so for both.
2. I came away from my meetings in Israel and the Palestinian Authority convinced that the solid majority of people on both sides want their leaders to get back on the path towards peace. Given all what have been said and all what has happened these past few months, that is not likely to occur overnight. But given that state, we will persist in our efforts and have scheduled further meetings in Washington and New York later this month. We will also persist in trying to re-energize the process of negotiating agreements between Israel and Syria, and Israel and Lebanon.
3. During the past week, I have explored the prospect for comprehensive peace with Prime Minister Netanyahu, President Assad, and today with your leadership. The recent tragic violence in the south of your country has underlined for all concerned that the status quo is not acceptable. I have found within each of the three governments a willingness and the desire to resume negotiations. Unfortunately, there is no agreement yet about the basis of such negotiations. Here too, we have at least agreed to talk further about further talks. In the absence of a peace elevator, we are methodically taking the stairs.
4. When we meet with Lebanese, Israeli and Syrian representatives in New York next week, we will see whether the mutual interest in progress is matched by a mutual willingness to consider seriously each others views.
5. As I said earlier, I am an optimist, but I cannot make any predictions of success based on my discussions this week. But what I can tell you is that it is the view of the United States that any lasting settlement between Lebanon and Israel must include full security for Israel, full sovereignty for Lebanon over all its territories, and real peace with normal relations.
6. Until such a peace is achieved, the United States will continue to support strongly the efforts of the Israel-Lebanon Monitoring Group to protect civilian lives and reduce the incidents of violence.
7. As I said, there were a number of reasons why I thought it is important to visit your country on this trip. A final one is that it was my responsibility this past July to decide whether or not to renew the US past restriction on travel to Lebanon. I decided not to renew them. Further, I look forward to the day we will be able to lift completely the travel advisories and other restrictions we still believe are necessary. Lebanon is still a dangerous place for people to travel in. But I do believe it is important that the travel advisories and restrictions be lifted. How soon the day arrives when no travel advisories will not be necessary, will depend on how successful you are as you continue to heel the wounds of the civil strife, and as you struggle to reduce the threats of extremist violence -- a threat which no nation including my own is entirely free.
8. In recent history, few nations have paid a higher price than yours as a consequence of division leading to conflict. Looking ahead, few countries have as much to gain of the consequence of diversity leading to strength. Some argue that people of different background cannot live together in peace. America at its best is living testimony to the contrary of this proposition. Ours include virtually every race, creed, culture and ethnicity on earth. At its best, Lebanon too has been a model for other nations. With its wondrous mosaic of peoples and faiths, yours is a land whose influence can extend far beyond its three million people and 4000 square miles.
9. In the months ahead, I hope that we will continue working together in support of democracy, in pursuit of peace, in enhancing law, and in anticipation of the days Lebanon's wounds are fully healed, its economy fully revived, and its rightful place in the Middle East fully restored.
Albright, ending a four-hour visit to Lebanon, headed at about 4:00 p.m. to the U.S. Embassy in Aukar where she boarded a helicopter to Larnaca, Cyprus, on her way back home.
On the security level, Israel's security minister Avigdor Kahalani today threatened of shelling Lebanon's infrastructures, including electricity, telephones and water, after each and every attack by the resistance. This way, he said, the Lebanese government will be compelled to send its army to maintain peace and security in south Lebanon.
Meanwhile, the recent developments which coincided with Mrs. Albright's tour of the region, occupied the front pages of Lebanon's daily newspapers. Speculations said the violence that mounted up during Albright's visit, is likely to go on unabated. The ongoing tension was interpreted by Lebanese political circles as a bid aiming at exerting more pressures on Lebanon and Syria to make them concede to the Israeli demands. Another aim was to absorb local frustrations, and curb the drive to question the validity of occupying parts of south Lebanon, in light of the heavy casualties incurred.
Climaxing an already bloody weekend, two Israeli soldiers were yesterday killed in a Hizbullah roadside bomb attack. The incident brought the Israeli death toll to 15 in 10 days, and to 33 since the beginning of the year. It occurred when a special forces unit was advancing along a valley near the border village of Tallouseh.
Hizbullah, in a statement issued in Beirut, claimed responsibility for the attack, and said it was done by "the group of the martyrs Hadi Nasrallah and Ali Qawtharani".
Hizbullah's Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah, who lost his 18 year old son during a fight with an Israeli attacking force last Friday, continued, amid massive crowds, to receive condolences from local and foreign dignitaries, including state officials.
Israeli press reports, meanwhile, said it is possible to swap the body of Nasrallah's son, Hadi, with the remains of the Israeli soldier killed during the recent commando raid near Nsariyeh. But Hizbullah's circles rejected the idea, insisting that the swap must include the Lebanese detainees and captives as well.
Thousands of people yesterday gathered in and around the Church of the Miraculous Icon in Achrafieh to attend a memorial service held for Beshir Gemayel, 15 years after the president-elect was assassinated in a bomb blast at the Kataeb Party quarters.
During the service, 15-year-old Nadim Beshir Gemayel called in a brief speech his fathers followers to "stop talking and start acting because the days of empty words are over."
Meanwhile, security forces trying to stop a march to the site of Gemayel's death, were forced by the crowds to help organize the procession by closing off the roads. Pictures of the former leader of the prohibited Lebanese forces were pasted next to those of Beshir Gemayel on placards, while the flags of both parties hovered over the heads of the rushing crowds.
About 12 people were reportedly arrested, but were later released. Beshir's widow Solange, commenting on the matter, said, "the crowds were willing to comply with the laws, so long as these laws were equally applied. But if the laws were conveniently changed by the authorities, and if they want to challenge us, then we want them to know that we accept the challenge".
-President Elias Hrawi participated Sunday in the flower festival of Zahleh, and spent the weekend at his residence there.
-House Speaker Nabih Berri during his current visit to Armenia said the solution to the ongoing military struggle in south Lebanon and western Biqaa lies in implementing UN resolution 425. Berri, who yesterday ended his visit to Armenia after visiting Patriarch Karakin 1, flew later to Tehran, the third and last point on his schedule.
-Patriarch Sfeir in his Sunday's sermon said there would be no peace without justice. He said the Israeli rejection of the land-for-peace formula has led to more violence in south Lebanon. "The significance of life and dignity has been devalued in our land where every day blood is let and victims fall down", he said. "All of this is a result of usurping legitimate rights and abandoning justice".
-A Lebanese daily published today the names and numbers of Lebanese detainees in Israeli jails. It said 29 are jailed in Israel, and 129 in the Khiam detention camp inside the Israeli self proclaimed security zone.
-Ansar football team overcame Riyada wal Adab 2-0 at the Bourj Hammoud stadium.
-Lebanon's Judo team, which participated in the Madagascar francophonic tournament returned back to Beirut. Lebanon's Judo player Roody Hashash won a bronze medal, beating contestants from Cameron and Canada.
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