(photo credit: AP)
Following French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner's recent visit to Lebanon, France's top diplomat stressed that Iran, and through it, Syria must be kept at arm's length if peace is to be restored in Lebanon.
Kouchner made his remarks in Cairo on Sunday standing beside his Egyptian counterpart Ahmed Aboul Gheit, on the back end of a diplomatic trip aimed at garnering support from regional players to restore stability in Lebanon.
The French foreign minister made it clear that "Iran and Syria must not exercise influence that could lead to war," hinting at the instability caused by Hizbullah's open undermining of the government, which Kouchner sees as a "negative force."
"We have always asked these countries to play a positive role but have not always received concrete results," a senior French Foreign Ministry official told The Jerusalem Post from Paris on Monday.
Before leaving Lebanon for Cairo, Kouchner warned the Lebanese not to "appear innocent," and that they should be aware that "war can start in Lebanon at any time."
According to the French official, Kouchner was in Cairo to court Egyptian support for France's initiative in Lebanon, banking on Egypt's clout in the Arab League.
Over the past month, France has been actively seeking an end to the political deadlock in Lebanon. Earlier this month, France mediated between rival Lebanese factions at the Saint-Cloud talks outside Paris, followed by a high-ranking mission to Damascus led by Jean-Claude Cousseran, a former ambassador to Syria, to brief the Syrians on the developments in Lebanon.
Cousseran has also traveled twice to Teheran to engage the Iranians on Lebanese stability, the French Foreign Ministry explained. "These missions to Iran are not a rapprochement [between France and Iran] but rather, a realistic approach to a country with regional influence. These are visits which brought no deals," the official explained.
Kouchner's most recent efforts to revive dialogue and cooperation in Lebanon seemed to bear little fruit as he left Beirut for meetings in Egypt on Sunday, but he remained optimistic saying, "a little progress is progress nonetheless."
"The crisis in Lebanon is very difficult and complicated," Kouchner further explained adding that the outside influences that plague the Western-backed government headed by Fouad Saniora have turned Lebanon into one of the most "difficult problems in the world."
Two rival governments could emerge if Parliament fails to elect a new president before November 25 when opposition-backed President Emile Lahoud must step down. Iran and Syria back the opposition, while Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan and the Western powers support the Saniora government.
After holding separate meetings with Saniora and pro-Syrian house speaker Nabih Berri, Kouchner met with representatives from several political factions, including Hizbullah representative Nawaf Moussawi and opposition leader Michel Aoun. Kouchner did not elaborate on the specifics of his meetings with the representatives, but did say that his efforts were "just a step," and that the little progress made was still encouraging.
The foreign ministry official also said that while Kouchner met with Hizbullah representatives, "he did not receive any news concerning the [captured Israeli] soldiers' fate, and has not discussed the issue with Hizbullah since the talks at Saint-Cloud."