Posted by Joshua on Wednesday, December 19th, 2007
By Yoav Stern, Haaretz Correspondent
Last update – 14:13 19/12/2007
French President Nicolas Sarkozy on Wednesday called on Syria to push the Lebanese Parliament to appoint a new president by Saturday.
Speaking to Syrian President Basher Assad by phone Wednesday, Sarkozy gave Assad an ultimatum, telling him to "use all your means and influence to bring this about. Don"t waste time with talk. I am expecting actions, and your last opportunity is Saturday."
Sarkozy said he offered no diplomatic incentives to Syria in pushing for them to advance elections in Lebanon.
Lebanese elections are set for Saturday, December 22nd, after they were postponed nine times, mainly because of a lack of agreement between the different groups on a candidate.
A tentative solution the crisis has been reached wherein the parliament will be required to allow (ret.) General Mishal Suleiman to run on the ballot. Sarkozy stated that only after this is done can deliberations over swearing in a new government can begun.
The anti-Damascus governing coalition had previously opposed the
nomination of Suleiman, who was appointed army chief when Syria controlled Lebanon and has good ties with Hezbollah.
The presidency has been empty since Nov. 23 when pro-Syrian Emile Lahoud's term ended. A series of parliamentary sessions called to elect his replacement have failed because there has been no agreement between the rivals on a candidate.
Agreement on a new president would defuse Lebanon's worst political crisis since the 1975-1990 civil war. Fears of a return to violence have eased since last week with both sides seeking to contain rather than escalate their standoff.
But the rivals have yet to agree on any of a number of possible compromise candidates, who must be Maronite Christians under Lebanon's sectarian power-sharing system.
Syria spurned atom smuggler approach in 2001: Assad
Wed Dec 19, 2007
VIENNA (Reuters) – Syria rebuffed a possible approach in 2001 from Pakistani-led traffickers in nuclear arms technology, President Bashar al-Assad said.
In an interview with Austrian daily Die Presse, Assad said an unnamed person delivered to Syria a letter purportedly from A.Q. Khan, the now-disgraced father of Pakistan’s atom bomb who supplied Iran, Libya and North Korea with nuclear parts and know-how.
“At the beginning of 2001 someone brought us a letter from a certain Khan. We did not know if the letter was genuine or a forgery by Israel to lure us into a trap,” Assad was quoted by Die Presse on Wednesday as saying.
“In any case, we rejected (the approach). We were not interested in having nuclear weapons or a nuclear reactor. We never met Khan.”
In September, Israel bombed a Syrian site that Western analysts said might have been a covert nuclear reactor under construction. Damascus said it was a minor military building.
Western analysts who examined satellite imagery of the Syrian site targeted by Israeli warplanes on September 6 said it may have contained a nuclear reactor under construction similar to North Korean design. They found it suspicious that the structure appeared to have been razed by Syria after the air attack.
“This was a military facility under construction. Since it was a military facility, I can’t give details. But that does not mean that this was a nuclear facility…,” Assad said.
Syria has said it is hiding nothing from International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspectors.
The IAEA has also studied before-and-after commercial aerial photos of the site and asked Syria for explanations. Diplomats close to the IAEA said Syria has not replied and the pictures alone were unlikely to yield conclusions.
(Reporting by Mark Heinrich; editing by Robert Woodward)