On her way back home yesterday, the US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright said she found the crisis of confidence between Israel and the Palestinians far worse than she expected. She said she would return to the Middle East when she finds out that her presence there will make a difference. She however seemed hopeful the upcoming talks in Washington and New York between Israel and the Palestinian Authority this month, would move things forward. She also appeared somehow optimistic about the chance of renewing the peace talks between Israel and Syria, and pointed out that there was an impression in Damascus and Tel Aviv that the peace talks have been delayed for a long time, and that both sides were desirous of resuming them.
In Lebanon, Albright said what she came to say, and the Lebanese officials made her hear what they wanted her to hear. The irony was that 24 hours after the visit, the Lebanese officials were very keen on bringing high hopes down to normal by saying that the visit was one of reconnaissance. They also said the visit carried no new plan or project for south Lebanon, and that its outcome will not be immediate.
On board the plane taking her back home, Albright also reiterated that Lebanon is still a dangerous place, and pointed out that the only solution for south Lebanon is in arriving at a comprehensive settlement of the Middle East crisis.
On the regional level, shortly after Albright left back to the US, intensive diplomatic activities headed in the direction of Cairo.
Forty eight hours before the arrival of the Syrian President Hafez Assad to the Egyptian capital, Turkish President Suleiman Demeril arrived in Cairo on a brief reassurance visit prior to the forthcoming joint American-Turkish-Israeli military exercises in the Mediterranean.
Entering on the Syrian-Turkish tension line, Egypt succeeded in inducing a political statement from Ankara, saying that the Israeli-Turkish cooperation is not directed against Syria. The statement also called on Arab countries to remove the state of mistrust and misunderstanding between the two sides.
Meanwhile in Beirut, reactions to Albright's tour ranged between skepticism and rejection.
One daily said the visit has failed because neither the faltering peace process was revived, nor the countries urged to join the Doha Economic Conference responded.
Another daily accused Albright of presenting Israeli conditions in an American framework. Of these, was halting the activities of the resistance to ensure the success of the negotiation, and agreeing on security arrangements to arrive at an Israeli withdrawal from south Lebanon.
A third daily said the important thing was what Albright did not mention in her statements yesterday: UN resolution 425. This was probably because neither Israel recognized the resolution, nor the US respects the United Nations, the paper said.
On the subject of the talks the Lebanese officials had with Albright, three topics were reportedly raised:
1. The deadlocked Lebanese-Israeli track.
2. The ongoing escalation in south Lebanon;
3. Lebanon's role in combating terrorism.
On the first topic, the Lebanese officials reportedly told Albright that Lebanon is interested in resuming the peace talks on the basis of the Madrid conference. On the second, they said the shortest way to ending tension in south Lebanon is implementing UN resolution 425. On the third, they clarified that resisting occupation should not to be viewed as an act of terrorism.
Another opinion said the topics discussed also included halting the Israeli war of attrition against Lebanon; implementing resolution 425; and adhering to the April understanding.
Hizbullah, in a statement yesterday said, "speeding up Albright's visit to the region came as a result of Netanyahu's policies, which were instrumental in increasing the operations carried out by the resistance".
The Party also viewed that Albright has affirmed the absolute support given to Israel by the US Administration, and the US drive to maintain Israel's military supremacy.
"Albright tried to blackmail the Palestinian people and impose Israeli conditions on them. She incited Palestinian-Palestinian fighting through calling on Arafat and the Palestinian people to fight the terrorism represented by Hamas and the Islamic Jihad; she tried to save the Doha [Middle East and North Africa] Economic Conference through urging the boycotting countries to participate; and she campaigned against the Islamic Republic [of Iran] to prevent the success of contacts made to improve relations with Arab countries". The statement said.
Denouncing what it described as "the US antagonistic policy", the statement said, "Lebanon did not need Albright's visit. We were surprised by the keenness of the Lebanese official on this visit, as if they were expecting it to bring goodness to Lebanon, while all it carried was evil and more conspiracies against Lebanon's unity and its support for the resistance".
US Secretary of State Madleine Albright's unexpected visit to Beirut has raised Lebanon's profile in the Middle East peace negotiations in the face of Syria's influence, former Lebanese leader General Michel Aoun said yesterday to a leading news paper.
"Whatever the results of Albright's visit are, the steps the US has taken are very positive". Aoun said. He added it was particularly significant because she visited despite being aware that Lebanon does not have an independent decision-making power.
"She did not pass through Syria to negotiate on behalf of the Lebanese, and thus Lebanon is still considered and important party in the Middle East peace process", Aoun said.
"The Lebanese government is not capable of pushing peace forward on the Israeli-Lebanese track, because of its dependence on the Syrian will", he added.
He declined to speculate on the results of Albright's talks with President Elias Hrawi and Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, but referred to the visit as a "major event" for Lebanon.
The leader of the National Liberal Party, Dori Chamoun, agreed that the visit carried an important "message to the Lebanese people". "Her coming to Lebanon shows the US Secretary of State still considers Beirut as the capital of Lebanon", Chamoun said, expressing support for a peaceful settlement in the troubled South.
Decisions need no longer be taken from outside Lebanon, he added, "but this will be the case only if Lebanese officials assume their responsibilities, and it is about time they did". Chamoun advocated an Israeli pullout from the South, through the implementation of UN resolution 425 or any other means.
-Wife of Hizbullah's Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah told a local daily that she expected the martyrdom of her son Hadi since he joined the Islamic resistance three years ago. She said she refuses giving priority to swapping the body of her son. On another note, she said none of the wives of Lebanon's three top officials extended condolence to her. Meanwhile in Israel, the media referred to the different approach to death by Israeli and Shiite communities. It said, "while the society in Israeli give prominence to protecting the lives of its members, Shiites places importance on principles. The Israelis thought the death of Hadi Nasrallah would be a fatal blow to the Party's morale, yet his death gave the Islamic resistance more legitimacy".
-MP Nayla Moawad hailed the Constitutional Council's decision on Saturday to annul the extension of the mandate of municipal and mayors, and said this was a victory for the law and the constitution.
-Iraq agreed to permit Iraqi businessmen to pay Lebanon a 5-day visit beginning October 10. The visit was agreed during talks held in Oman between the Chairman of the Lebanese Confederation of Chambers of Commerce Adnan Qassar and his Iraqi counterpart Zuhair Younes.
-Defense Minister Mohsen Dalloul yesterday said that the Lebanon people chose to resist and will not surrender. He said this will not be given up until a fair and comprehensive peace is reached.
-Currently on a visit to Syria, the Saudi Prince of Riyahd Selman Ben Abdul Aziz is expected to arrive in Lebanon shortly, upon the invitation of Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.
-Safa football team is to play tomorrow a friendly game with Ahd at Museitbeh in preparation for the third phase of Lebanon's championship of first class teams.
-Homentmen-Beirut overcame Homentmen-Bourj Hammoud and Antranik overcame Shabab Riyadi-Ghobeiri in the basketball classification for Lebanon's women championship.
-Egypt air and Nadi Riyadi will play today a friendly basketball match at Manara.
-Iran and Lebanon will play on 19th and 21st at the Kahraba stadium in Beirut in the finals of the Asian-Oceania Davis cup.
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