The Lebanese media is caught up in a frenzy trying to parse the results of yesterday’s summit in Beirut. A few observations are in order.
The little information that has trickled out of the closed-door meetings held in Damascus and Beirut seems to suggest that the point of King Abdullah’s visit was both to instill confidence among his allies in Lebanon and to take the temperature of Syria and Hizbullah on the issue of impending indictments.
Al-Akhbar reports that Assad was unequivocal on the point that the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL) should be terminated because Lebanon could not bear the results of its anticipated accusations. Furthermore, he insisted that Hizbullah remained a red line for Damascus and any attempt to target it would be regarded as part of an Israeli conspiracy against the Lebanese resistance.
A glimpse of King Abdullah’s response to Assad’s entreaties appeared in today’s cover story in An-Nahar:
واذا كانت مسألة المحكمة الخاصة بلبنان والقرار الظني المرتقب صدوره عنها قد احتلت صدارة الاهتمام قبل القمة بفعل تحريك الأمين العام لـ”حزب الله” السيد حسن نصرالله المستمر لها، فان المعلومات التي تواترت من بعض الاوساط التي شاركت في اللقاءات التي عقدت على هامش القمة افادت ان الملك عبدالله ذكر “أن جهوداً تبذل من اجل معالجة مسألة المحكمة، لكن المسألة ليست سهلة لانها اصبحت في يد المجتمع الدولي”. ونسبت أوساط نيابية وسياسية في قوى 8 آذار الى الرئيس الأسد ان العاهل السعودي “تعهد تأجيل صدور القرار الظني وفرملة عمل المحكمة وانه سيسعى لدى الولايات المتحدة من أجل هذا الهدف على رغم الشكوك في نجاح هذا المسعى“. لكن مرجعاً حكومياً سابقاً قال لـ”النهار” إن “أبرز ما حملته القمة الثلاثية هو العمل على التهدئة، أما المحكمة فليس لأحد القدرة على تغيير مسار عملها”.
[Gist: The Saudi king promised to try to postpone the issuance of the indictments, but noted that this was difficult because the Tribunal’s proceedings were in the hands of the international community. Parliamentary and political sources from the March 8 coalition also claimed that the king said he would discuss postponing the indictments with his American allies but doubted the success of such an endeavor.]
These reports seem to confirm that there is little appetite on the March 14/Saudi side to pursue a maximalist path against Hizbullah using the STL as a weapon. On the other hand, all that the Saudis have offered so far by way of a compromise is to try to postpone any indictments, rather than joining Syria and Hizbullah in condemning the whole thing as a Zionist conspiracy.
In other words, the two maximalist positions (viz., dismissing the Tribunal altogether, or accepting its findings come hell or high water) seem to be off the table for now, or at least are only on the table to serve as initial bargaining stances. The shape of a compromise solution between these two positions depends on what kind of pressure can, in fact, be placed on the Tribunal by outside actors such as the Lebanese government and the Saudi king, and also on the likely repercussions of pursuing only certain indictments and not others.
I hope to pursue this question of compromise solutions a bit further in the next few days as more information becomes available. In the meantime, feel free to discuss amongst yourselves.