French FM meets Hizbullah legislator

Kouchner tells reporters "It is natural to meet with [Hizbullah]" after its participation in elections.

kouchner lebanin 248.88 (photo credit: AP)
kouchner lebanin 248.88
(photo credit: AP)
France's foreign minister held talks Friday with a Hizbullah legislator in the latest European outreach to the Iranian-backed terror group. The European Union and Britain have also sought to engage the Shi'ite organization in recent months in an effort to encourage the group to abandon violence and play a constructive political role in the deeply divided country. The United States, however, shuns Hizbullah, which it considers a terrorist organization. Hizbullah suffered a setback in Lebanon's June 7 parliamentary election at the hands of a Western-backed coalition that held onto a majority in the legislature. The prime minister-designate, Saad Hariri, however, is trying to form a government that could include Hizbullah and its partners, though some of Hariri's allies are vowing to strip Hizbullah of the veto power it had in the outgoing government. Hizbullah had negotiated the power to veto government decisions after Shi'ite gunmen overran Sunni neighborhoods in Beirut in May 2008. French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner discussed the efforts to form a new government in his meeting with Hizbullah lawmaker Nawaf Musawi and in separate meetings with senior Lebanese officials. Kouchner defended the meeting. "Hizbullah is part of the parties that participated in the recent parliamentary elections. It is natural to meet with its representatives," Kouchner told reporters. Last month, the European Union's foreign affairs chief, Javier Solana, held talks in Beirut with another Hizbullah legislator in the first meeting between a senior EU diplomat and an official from the militant group. On Thursday, visiting British lawmakers met with the head of Hizbullah's 12-member bloc in parliament, Mohammed Raad. Britain's Foreign Office announced in March that it had contacted Hizbullah's political wing in an attempt to reach out to its legislators. It said its ultimate aim was to encourage the group to turn away from violence and become a positive force in Lebanon's politics. During Friday's meeting, Musawi said he briefed Kouchner on what he said were Israel's almost daily military flights over Lebanon in breach of a UN resolution that ended the Second Lebanon War. He also spoke of the alleged Israeli spy networks in Lebanon. Lebanese authorities have arrested about 100 people suspected of spying for or collaborating with Israel in recent weeks. Kouchner was to visit neighboring Syria on Saturday.