'Syria ready to help solve Lebanon's political crisis'

After meeting Assad, Lebanese parliament speaker says "brothers in Syria" have no conditions at an inter-Lebanese accord.

Berri Assad 224.88 (photo credit: AP)
Berri Assad 224.88
(photo credit: AP)
Syria is willing to help Lebanon's rival factions reach a national accord to end the ever-deepening Lebanese political crisis, the pro-Syrian Lebanese parliament speaker said Monday. Nabih Berri, aligned with the Syrian-backed opposition against Lebanon's Western-backed government, spoke after a two-hour meeting in Damascus with Syrian President Bashar Assad. It was the first such meeting in nearly two years between Syrian president and a high-ranking Lebanese official. Tensions between the two neighbors have increased, and Lebanon last week boycotted the Arab summit in Damascus. Lebanon's Syrian-backed opposition is locked in a power struggle with Prime Minister Fuad Saniora's government and the sharply divided Lebanese parliament has failed to elect a president since last September. "I tell our people in Lebanon, the Arabs and the world, that brothers in Syria have no conditions at all on an inter-Lebanese accord," Berri told reporters. "On the contrary, they are ready for any help they might be asked for." Berri's remarks sharply contrasted accusations by the United States and Lebanon's anti-Syrian factions that Syria was responsible for deepening the Lebanese crisis by blocking the election of a new president. Damascus has denied the charge, while its Lebanese allies have blamed Washington for scuttling attempts to reach a solution. Although they have decided in principle on Army chief Gen. Michel Suleiman as a consensus president, Lebanese lawmakers failed to elect him because rival sides can't agree on the shape of the future government. Saniora boycotted the Damascus summit last week, accusing Syria of blocking the presidential election. Leaders of Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan also boycotted the gathering, sending low-level officials instead, in protests over Syria's policy in Lebanon and its close alliance with Iran. Syria's official news agency SANA said Assad affirmed to Berri his support for dialogue and national accord between feuding Lebanese factions. Berri said his talks with Assad had given him "new momentum" to go ahead with his plans to revive dialogue among the country's rival factions, to elect Suleiman, form a national unity government and adopt a new electoral law. Syria-Lebanese relations soured following the 2005 assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. Lebanese anti-Syrian factions have blamed Syria for Hariri's death in a massive truck bombing in Beirut. Syria has denied involvement. Berri will also Saudi Arabia and Egypt in a bid to promote a solution to the Lebanese crisis, Lebanese newspapers said Monday.