April 5/2007

Bible Reading of the day
Holy Gospel of Jesus Christ according to Saint Matthew 26,14-25. Then one of the Twelve, who was called Judas Iscar iot, went to the chief priests and said, "What are you willing to give me if I hand him over to you?" They paid him thirty pieces of silver, and from that time on he looked for an opportunity to hand him over. On the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread, the disciples approached Jesus and said, "Where do you want us to prepare for you to eat the Passover?"He said, "Go into the city to a certain man and tell him, 'The teacher says, "My appointed time draws near; in your house I shall celebrate the Passover with my disciples."'"The disciples then did as Jesus had ordered, and prepared the Passover.
When it was evening, he reclined at table with the Twelve. And while they were eating, he said, "Amen, I say to you, one of you will betray me." Deeply distressed at this, they began to say to him one after another, "Surely it is not I, Lord?" He said in reply, "He who has dipped his hand into the dish with me is the one who will betray me. The Son of Man indeed goes, as it is written of him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed. It would be better for that man if he had never been born."Then Judas, his betrayer, said in reply, "Surely it is not I, Rabbi?" He answered, "You have said so."

Free Opinions
NANCY'S VISIT TO THE BUTCHER SHOP.By: Phil Brennan. March 5/07
Damascus has constructed a fantasy around Pelosi's visit. Daily Star. March 05/07
Analysis: Israelis want rematch in Lebanon.Middle East Times . March 05/07
Separating Economy from Politics: a Precondition for Protecting. Samer Renno.Al-Hayat March 05/07
French Constants in Lebanon.By: Randa Takieddin. March 05/07

Latest News Reports From Miscellaneous sources April 05/07
Pelosi holds talks with Syria's Assad. AP
Iran frees detained British sailors. AP
Israeli Reservists Need to Reconcile with their Weapons-Naharnet
Two Lebanese Hostages Released in Nigeria-Naharnet

Maronie Bishops Want New President Elected, Tribunal Created and Constitution Respected-Naharnet
Hizbullah's Qassem Accuses Majority of Wishing to 'Control' Lebanon-Naharnet

Parliamentary Majority Asks U.N. to Move on Tribunal-Naharnet
Lebanon's anti-Syrian majority asks UN to impose Hariri tribunal-International Herald Tribune

International Parliamentary Gathering in Beirut Considered-Naharnet
President Bush: Syria sponsors terror and nobody should meet with ...Journal of Turkish Weekly
Lebanon parliament petitions UN to mandate Hariri tribunal-JURIST
Turkish PM in Syria football diplomacy-Turkish Press
Syria hails Pelosi trip to Damascus-MSNBC
Pelosi in Syria-Jewish Comment
Pelosi Visits Market, Mosque in Syria-Chippewa Herald
Crossing the Blue Line  UNIFIL & the People of Southern Lebanon.The Media Line
GOP delegation comments on Syria trip. Think Progress
Iran Emboldened: Tehran Seeks to Dominate Middle East Politics. Hawaii Reporter
Merkel Supports An Independent State In Lebanon.AINA
Lebanon house speaker blocks session. Howell Times and Transcript

Latest News Reports From The Daily Star for April 04/07
Siniora tells Cabinet session: Government is 100 percent constitutional and legal

March 14 MPs hand over petition calling for UN action on tribunal
Pelosi vows US 'will not bargain over Lebanon'
Visiting Bulgarian envoy hints at Chapter 7 option
Mufti of Tyre adds voice to chorus calling on Parliament to convene
Berri, Hariri meeting may happen 'within day or two'
Qatar's influential foreign minister becomes premier
Moussa rejects Israel's offer for talks as 'not serious'
Blair says 'door is open' on dialogue
Syrian court to rule this month in rights activist's case
Arabs tell Olmert to get serious
Harb: Going to UN is 'normal' path if Parliament stays closed
Academics reject British paper's claim that Maronites are fleeing Islamization
Solid electoral law can break addiction to foreign intervention
Developer of television programs sues broadcaster
Qassem accuses majority of maintaining deadlock

Pelosi meets Syrian president
By ZEINA KARAM, Associated Press Writer
DAMASCUS, Syria - House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (news, bio, voting record) held talks with Syria's leader Wednesday despite White House objections, saying she pressed President Bashar Assad over his country's support for militant groups and passed him a peace message from Israel.
The meeting was an attempt to push the Bush administration to open a direct dialogue with Syria, a step that the White House has rejected. Congressional Democrats insist the U.S. attempts to isolate Syria have failed to force the Assad government to change its policies.
Rep. Tom Lantos (news, bio, voting record), the head of the House Foreign Affairs Committee who was in Pelosi's delegation, said the meeting "reinforced sharply" the potential benefits of talking to Syria. "This is only the beginning of our constructive dialogue with Syria and we hope to build on this visit," he told reporters.
On Tuesday, President Bush denounced Pelosi's visit to Syria, saying it sends mixed signals to Assad's government. "Sending delegations doesn't work. It's simply been counterproductive," Bush said.
Washington says Syria is fueling Iraq's violence by allowing Sunni insurgents to operate from its territory. It also accuses it of backing terrorism because of its support for the Hezbollah and Hamas militant groups and of destabilizing the Lebanese government.
"We came in friendship, hope, and determined that the road to Damascus is a road to peace," Pelosi told reporters after her talks with Assad.
Pelosi said she and her delegation "expressed our concern about Syria's connections to Hezbollah and Hamas" and discussed the issue of militant fights slipping across the Syrian border into Iraq.
"These are important issues not only in the fight against terrorism but important priorities for us for peace in the Middle East," she said.
She said she brought a message to Assad from Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert that Israel was ready for peace talks with Syria. Assad gave assurances that "he's ready to engage in negotiations for peace with Israel," Pelosi said. She later left Syria, heading for Saudi Arabia, the next leg of a Mideast tour.
At a meeting Sunday, Olmert asked Pelosi to take a message to Assad that Israel would be interested in peace if Syria stops its support for terrorism. Assad has repeatedly said in the past year that Damascus is willing to negotiate with Israel, insisting the talks must lead to the return of the Golan Heights, seized by Israel in the 1967 Mideast War.
In the talks with Assad, the delegation raised the issue of Israeli soldiers kidnapped by the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah and the Palestinian group Hamas and conveyed "the importance of Syria's role with Hamas in promoting peace between the Palestinians and the Israelis," Pelosi said.
Syria hosts the exiled leadership of Hamas, as well as other Palestinian radical groups, and is a major patron of Hezbollah. But while the United States regards Hamas and Hezbollah as terrorist groups, Syria insists that Hamas is a legitimate resistance movement working for Palestinian freedom and Hezbollah is a regular Lebanese political party.
Pelosi's visit to Syria was the latest challenge to the White House by congressional Democrats, who are taking a more assertive role in influencing policy in the Middle East and the Iraq war.
Last year, the bipartisan Iraq Study Group recommended Washington open talks with Iran and Syria to try to resolve the war in Iraq and other regional crises. Bush rejected the recommendations, insisting dialogue would not bring results. But in February, the U.S. joined a gathering of regional diplomats in Baghdad that included Iran and Syria for talks on Iraq.
"These people in the United States who are opposing dialogue I tell them one thing: Dialogue is ... the only method to close the gap existing between two countries," Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem told reporters after the Assad-Pelosi meeting.
"Everyone knows there are different point of view between Syria and the United States," he said. "We are happy that Mrs. Pelosi and her delegation had the courage and determination to bridge these differences."
Bush said Pelosi's trip signals that the Assad government is part of the international mainstream when it is not. "A lot of people have gone to see President Assad ... and yet we haven't seen action. He hasn't responded," Bush told reporters soon after Pelosi arrived in Damascus on Tuesday.
Relations between the U.S. and Syria reached a low point in early 2005 when Washington withdrew its ambassador to Damascus to protest the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. Many Lebanese blamed Syria — which had troops in Lebanon at the time — for the assassination. Damascus denied involvement. Washington has since succeeded in largely isolating Damascus, with its European and Arab allies shunning Assad. The last high-ranking U.S. official to visit Syria was then-Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage in January 2005.
The isolation, however, has begun to crumble in recent months, with visits by U.S. lawmakers and some European officials.

Iran frees detained British sailors
By NASSER KARIMI, Associated Press Writer
TEHRAN, Iran - Iran on Wednesday freed the 15 detained British sailors and marines in what President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad called an Easter gift to the British people. Prime Minister Tony Blair said he bore "no ill will" toward the Iranian people. Iranian state television said the 14 men and one woman, who were seized while on patrol in the northern Persian gulf on March 23, would leave Iran on Thursday. An Iranian official in London said they would be handed over to British diplomats in Tehran. Ahmadinejad's surprise announcement came at a news conference shortly after he pinned a medal on the chest of the Iranian coast guard commander who intercepted the sailors and marines."I'm glad that our 15 service personnel have been released and I know their release will come as a relief not just to them but to their families," Blair said outside his No. 10 Downing St. office. "Throughout, we have taken a measured approach, firm but calm, not negotiating but not confronting, either."Blair added, "To the Iranian people I would simply say this: We bear you no ill will."

By: Phil Brennan
O, pardon me, thou bleeding piece of earth, that I am meek and gentle with these butchers! - Mark Antony to Caesar's corpse - Shakespeare, "Julius Caesar."
Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi has donned her diplomat's hat and gone to visit Syrian President Bashar Assad knowing full well that Bashar Assad is a butcher who stands accused of murdering Lebanese statesmen, and of launching a decades-long war of terror and assassination against Lebanon.
Perhaps Nancy Pelosi is comfortable in the company of butchers - she's long been an ardent supporter of those members of the abortion industry who have killed 40 million unborn babies without a murmur of protest from the present Speaker of the House.
If Mrs. Pelosi doesn't want to believe her host is a butcher, she should pop over to Lebanon and have a chat with Father Joseph Abu Ghazale, the parish priest at the Maronite Catholic Church of St Anthony's, which is a bare 50 yards from the site where Lebanese Industry Minister Pierre Gemayel was gunned down by Assad's assassins.
Gemayel 34, and his bodyguard were killed Nov. 21 while driving through Beirut's Christian neighborhood of Jdeideh. His car was rammed by another vehicle. Then, witnesses said, at least three gunmen leaped out of the vehicle and sprayed his car with 20 bullets from automatic weapons equipped with silencers. They fired at near point-blank range through the driver's window at Gemayel, who was at the wheel, and at his bodyguard seated in the passenger seat.
His murder was "an operation trying to kill the hope of the people," Father Ghazale told the Catholic News Service. Asked whom he thought was behind the assassination, Father Ghazale said: "Syria, for sure. Thirty years of Syrian occupation weren't enough - they are still trying to kill the Gemayel family. But with this death they have killed one Gemayel and created thousands more in the young Lebanese people."
Bashar Assad's government thugs are also held responsible for the assassination of many of Lebanon's leaders including:
Gebran Tueni, a Lebanese patriot, member of parliament, and publisher of one of Lebanon's leading newspapers. He was a well-known opponent of Syrian interference in Lebanon.
Former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri who was assassinated on February 14, 2005 when explosives equivalent to around 300 kg of C4 were detonated as his motorcade drove past the Saint George Hotel in the Lebanese capital, Beirut. As documented in the U.N. investigation, Syrian president Bashar al-Assad made his motives and threats well known, particularly to former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. According to the UN report, Assad told Hariri: "I will crush anyone who tries to oppose our decisions."
In a February 16 statement Elias Bejjani, Chairman for the Canadian Lebanese Coordinating Council (LCCC) reported that three civilians were killed and twenty-four others were seriously wounded when two minibuses were exploded as they ferried passengers to work, to run errands and to Bible study classes on Tuesday February 13, 2007. Residents of the Lebanese Christian village of Ain Alaq in the mountainous North Metn region awoke to two bomb blasts and the sight of ruptured buses and staggering, blood-soaked passengers.
Said Bejjani: "This new criminal and cowardly assault is a new chapter in the unfolding vicious cycle of terror, intimidation, assassinations and the sending of explosive and murderous messages by Syria and Iran, the two members of the Axis of Evil, at the expense of Lebanon's stability and the lives of the Lebanese people.
"Syria has been abusing Lebanon since 1975, using it as an arena for its dirty wars, acts of Mafioso and terrorism. Iran joined Syria actively through Hezbollah in 1982. The two countries carry out their anti-Lebanese, anti-peace and anti-world destructive schemes in and via Lebanon through armed Lebanese and Palestinian ideological, fundamentalist, and Mafia militias. These armed terrorist organizations are fully under the command of Syria and Iran, and are fully sponsored and run by them in their arming, financing, training, issuing directions, and decision-making processes. First among these groups is Hezbollah, the Iranian military brigade in Lebanon...
"Lebanon, the land of the Holy cedars and 7,000 years of civilization is being subjected to the ugliest and most dangerous war plot that is orchestrated and conducted by the Axis of Evil through Hezbollah and its Lebanese coup d'état appendages. This war is bluntly targeting Lebanon's state institutions, its democratic constitution, its multicultural communal shared living paradigm, and its freedoms, peace and stability.
"Within this context, last Tuesday the Axis of Evil countries perpetrated directly or indirectly through their Lebanese mercenaries and militias the bloody assault against Christian civilians in Ain Alaq, the peaceful and tranquil Christian Lebanese village.
Just what does Mrs. Pelosi hope to accomplish by being meek and gentle with these butchers? Does she expect Assad to throw in the towel, get his murderous assassins out of Lebanon, stop supporting Hezbollah, or prevent Syrian and Iranian terrorists from crossing his borders over into Iraq to kill her fellow Americans.
She will, I'm sure, get a warm welcome from Assad. He has to be wallowing in appreciation for her presently successful efforts to tie the hands of the administration and stymie the President's new surge policy. Like Osama bin Laden he must be overjoyed at the prospect of Mrs. Pelosi and her party succeeding in alerting al Qaeda that they need hang in there for only a year before U.S. troops are withdrawn and Iraq is handed over to them lock, stock and barrel so they can get on with the business of killing innocent people by the tens of thousands.
Come home Nancy, and leave the business of wartime diplomacy to the adults.
Phil Brennan is a veteran journalist who writes for He is editor & publisher of Wednesday on the Web and was Washington columnist for National Review magazine in the 1960s. He also served as a staff aide for the House Republican Policy Committee and helped handle the Washington public relations operation for the Alaska Statehood Committee which won statehood for Alaska. He is also a trustee of the Lincoln Heritage Institute and a member of the Association of Former Intelligence Officers. Phil Brennan is a regular columnist for Ether Zone.
Phil Brennan can be reached at
We invite you to visit his website at Wednesday on the Web
Published in the April 4, 2007 issue of Ether Zone.
Copyright © 1997 - 2007 Ether Zone.

Pelosi vows US 'will not bargain over Lebanon'
Daily Star staff
Wednesday, April 04, 2007
BEIRUT: US House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi told Lebanese leaders on Monday that her country "will not bargain over Lebanon," adding that the US was "totally aware" of the situation in Lebanon. Local daily An-Nahar quoted Pelosi on Monday as saying that her visit to Damascus the next day "ought not to be considered as meaning a change in US policy concerning Lebanon."
American Democrats and the Republicans hold "the same stands concerning Lebanon, especially with regard to aids allotted to the Lebanese Army that were ratified by the US Congress," she said.
Sources close to Pelosi told An-Nahar that the speaker will inform Syria that Democrats support the establishment of an international court to try suspects in the February 2005 murder of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, in addition the implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 1701, which ended the summer 2006 war with Israel. Pelosi said that she will tell Syria that America is "keen on preserving" Lebanese unity, but opposed to "any kind of foreign interference in Lebanese domestic issues.""The road to solving Lebanon's problems passes through Damascus," Pelosi told reporters after meeting with parliamentary majority leader Saad Hariri on Monday.
Her visit to Syria does not fall within the framework of "illusions," but rather of "great hope," she said on Monday.
An-Nahar said that the minutes of Pelosi's meetings in Lebanon on Monday revealed that none of the figures with which the American official met expressed opposition to "the full implementation of Resolution 1701.""However, Pelosi was able to sense the huge discrepancy in opinions concerning the make-up of the tribunal, even if both loyalist and opposition groups encouraged its [tribunal] formation," the sources said.
The sources added that Pelosi noticed that while Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri was "excited" about re-launching one-on-one talks with Hariri, Hariri "showed reluctance" regarding a resumption of negotiations for a solution to the crisis because of the continued refusal by Berri to convene a parliamentary session.
An-Nahar noted that US Ambassador Jeffrey Feltman did not attend any of Pelosi's meetings on Monday, adding that he had left Lebanon on Saturday "for unknown reasons."The US Embassy "did not divulge any information about Pelosi's visit to Lebanon, where it previously used to provide biographies and press releases following the visit of any US officials to Beirut," the paper said. - The Daily Star

Bush criticizes Pelosi's visit to Syria as sending 'mixed signals'
Compiled by Daily Star staff
Wednesday, April 04, 2007
US President George W. Bush said that visits of the kind that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi made to Syria on Tuesday send "mixed signals" at a time when Damascus continues to undermine the Lebanese government and to support both Hizbullah and Hamas. In other comments, Bush vowed to keep working to prevent a nuclear-armed Islamic Republic and said that there should be no "quid pro quos" with Tehran in the standoff over 15 captive British sailors.
"We have made it clear to high-ranking officials, whether they be Republicans or Democrats, that going to Syria sends mixed signals - signals in the region and, of course, mixed signals to [Syrian] President [Bashar] Assad," Bush told a White House news conference.
"Photo opportunities and/or meetings with Assad lead the Assad government to believe they're part of the mainstream of the international community, when, in fact, they're a state sponsor of terror; when, in fact, they're helping expedite, or at least not stopping, the movement of foreign fighters from Syria into Iraq; when, in fact, they have done little to nothing to rein in militant Hamas and Hizbullah; and when, in fact, they destabilize the Lebanese democracy," Bush said.
American and European officials have visited Assad, "and yet we haven't seen action. In other words, he hasn't responded," he said. "Sending delegations doesn't work. It's simply been counterproductive.
"So the position of this administration is that the best way to meet with a leader like Assad or people from Syria is in the larger context of trying to get the global community to help change his behavior."
While discouraging visits by US officials, the Bush administration is talking to Syria as part of international conferences on Iraq. The first was held last month in Baghdad. Another, to include foreign ministers, was expected to be held sometime this month in the region.
Bush also said that his administration was taking "seriously the attempts of the Iranians to gain a nuclear weapon."
"I firmly believe that, if Iran were to have a nuclear weapon, it would be a seriously destabilizing influence in the Middle East," he said.
"And therefore we have worked to build an international coalition to try to convince the Iranians to give up their weapon, make it clear that they have choices to make," he said. The Iranian government "is making some choices that will continue to isolate them and deprive them of a better economic future," Bush said.
Asked if five Iranians held by the US military in Iraq should be released to prompt a possible release of the 15 Britons held in Iran, Bush said: "The seizure of the sailors is indefensible ... I also strongly support the prime minister's [Tony Blair's] declaration that there should be no quid pro quos when it comes to the hostages."
On Iraq, Bush called Democrats in Congress irresponsible for approving bills stipulating a date for US troops to withdraw from Iraq. He said their efforts will backfire and end up keeping some troops in battle even longer.
Bush repeated what has been a near-daily vow to veto legislation approved last month by narrow margins in the Senate and the House of Representatives that would impose a withdrawal timetable. If the president vetoes the legislation, lawmakers would have to begin anew on a funding bill.
"The bottom line is this: Congress' failure to fund our troops on the front lines will mean that some of our military families could wait longer for their loved ones to return from the front lines," Bush said. The president renewed veto threats on both a Senate bill calling for most US combat troops to be out of Iraq by March 31, 2008, and an even stronger House bill demanding a September 2008 withdrawal. - Agencies

Damascus has constructed a fantasy around Pelosi's visit
Wednesday, April 04, 2007
Editorial- Daily Star
The reaction of Syria's state-owned media to the visit of US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to Damascus was nothing short of gleeful. Editorials in the Syria Times and Tishrin called Pelosi a "brave lady" on an "invaluable mission" that has given Damascus "great hopes of a rebalancing of US policy in the region." Al-Baath, the rag of the ruling regime, called the visit a "recognition of Syria's role" that "shows there is more than one point of view on dealing with Damascus."
The Bush administration will likely seize upon these remarks, which read like really bad fiction, and claim that they constitute proof that President Bashar Assad has - as the White House predicted - exploited Pelosi's visit for his own political purposes. But Syria is not the only party to blame for the fact that it has grossly misread Washington; the Bush administration's refusal to communicate with its adversaries has done nothing to help set the record straight. For the past six years, George W. Bush and his administration have talked only indirectly to Syrian leaders. And most of this oblique communication comes in the form of stern but seemingly contradictory warnings to "support democracy" in Lebanon, but back a US crackdown on Hamas, the party that was democratically elected to office in Palestine. Talk about mixed messages. Even more baffling are the unofficial phrases of the kind that Bush uttered at a G8 lunch last year: "Syria needs to stop this shit."
Given that Washington can be a confusing place to understand even for insiders who have spent decades analyzing Beltway politics, it is no wonder that the Syrians have had trouble deciphering the US message and have instead opted to construct an imaginary version of what it is that Washington wants. The Syrians might be tempted to believe that Washington is at war with itself over the future of US policy in the region, but they should make no mistake about the fact that American policy toward the Middle East remains the same. While the Syrians may see some small changes, they should not anticipate a dramatic shift in US policy. They should not expect, for example, that Pelosi and her Democratic party will usher in an era of pro-Arab, or even fair and balanced US foreign policy in this region. In fact, Pelosi already gone out of her way to prove her solidly pro-Israel credentials.
Indeed, the only substantial difference between Pelosi and Bush on this region is one of approach. Pelosi seems to have concluded that Bush's policy of keeping Syria at arm's length has not yielded the expected results, and has in fact driven Damascus deeper into the embrace of Washington's other regional adversary, Iran. Maybe Pelosi's style of direct communication will help the Syrian regime discern its fantasies from reality.

March 14 MPs hand over petition calling for UN action on tribunal
Appeal moves court step closer to formation under chapter 7

By Rym Ghazal -Daily Star staff
Wednesday, April 04, 2007
BEIRUT: Lebanon's pro-government MPs sent a petition to the UN secretary general on Tuesday asking him to take "all necessary measures to create an international court" to try suspects in the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, moving the court a step closer to being formed under Chapter 7 of the UN Charter. Chapter 7 status, which has previously been used in Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia, would pave the way for the formation of a tribunal without the endorsement of the Lebanese government.
Parliamentary majority leader MP Saad Hariri handed the petition, which was signed by 70 MPs, to Geir Pedersen, the UN's special coordinator in Lebanon, to be forwarded to Ban Ki-Moon. Hariri was accompanied by Deputy Speaker Farid Makari and MPs Wael Bou Faour, Antoine Zahra and Samir Franjieh.
The five-page petition listed a number of reasons for the legislators' decision. It cited the UN Security Council's decision to issue Resolution 1595 demanding that a court be created, Cabinet's approval of a draft law that had been created by the justice minister - at the request of President Emile Lahoud - and Speaker Nabih Berri's refusal to convene Parliament and ratify the draft.
"Since the speaker refuses to accept the draft law and refer it to the UN Security Council ... and due to the president's continued efforts to hinder the work of Lebanon's constitutional institutions and its government ... and since these actions stand in the face of democratic actions ... we call on the UN to take all alternative measures it deems fit to ensure this court is formed, justice is served and national peace preserved," the petition said.
Earlier in the day, the MPs gathered outside a closed Parliament chamber for the third week in a row to pressure Berri to convene the spring session for a vote on the tribunal law. Opposition MPs massed in the same halls to reiterate that no session would be called until a "constitutional government" was formed.
The third gathering by over 50 pro-government legislators was marked by a noticeable drop in public statements inside the Parliament building and a larger turnout, particularly from prominent female members of the March 14 Forces, including MPs Sitrida Geagea, Solange Gemayel and Ghinwa Jalloul.
Makari said that although more than two thirds of all MPs gathered outside the locked chamber on Tuesday, Berri remains "determined" not to open the legislature.
"The gathering proves that democracy in Lebanon still prevails, as the representatives of this democratic institution are meeting here and are demanding their right to discuss issues of national importance," Makari told reporters.
Many had expected lawmakers from opposing camps to clash over the contentious tribunal on Tuesday. However, opposition and majority MPs chatted amicably over cigarettes outside Parliament in a surprisingly casual atmosphere considering the level of tension between the rival camps over the past four months.
Makari spoke on behalf of the majority, while the opposition issued a joint statement read by MP Nabil Nicola, a member of MP Michel Aoun's parliamentary bloc.
"We are committed to finding the truth behind the crime that killed former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri and others," Nicola said, "but we will not deal over this issue with a government that lost its legitimacy and constitutionality."
Nicola accused the "February 14 camp" of "plotting a coup against the Constitution and aborting chances for reaching a solution."
"The only solution is the formation of a national unity Cabinet," he said.
Nicola told The Daily Star that the opposition's stance was simple and clear.
"No government, no court, OK?" he said.
Telecommunications Minister Marwan Hamadeh told The Daily Star that the majority will give Berri "one more week to convene a session before moving onto the next step."Asked what that next step would be, Hamadeh said only that the ruling coalition would "apply more pressure and change tactics."
MP Akram Chehayeb said the opposition still needed to clarify a few points. "If they are so committed to the truth, then please head down to Parliament and show us all the modifications you want on the court," he said.

Qassem accuses majority of maintaining deadlock

By Hani M. Bathish -Daily Star staff
Wednesday, April 04, 2007
BEIRUT: Hizbullah's Deputy Secretary General Sheikh Naim Qassem accused pro-government forces of rejecting all overtures from the opposition aimed at resolving the current crisis and accused them of using the international tribunal to hide their true intentions. "The central point of this crisis and the path to a solution is participation, they claim it is the court. They hide behind the court to prevent us from participating in decision making. They do not want the tribunal, they want to control Lebanon," Qassem said, addressing crowds in Dahiyeh on the occasion of the prophet's birthday.
He said that some at the UN Security Council wish to create the tribunal under Chapter 7, adding that establishing the tribunal in such a way would constitute an attack on Lebanon. The tribunal would then cease to be a court to try suspects in the assassination of former premier Rafik Hariri, he added.
"Every solution we offer they [the government] refuse; we extend a hand and they reject it, they say it is political suicide to accept the 19+11 formula, but I ask what is suicide, participation [of the opposition in government] or taking decisions unilaterally?" Qassem asked. He said this government has failed utterly and should step aside. Qassem, addressing the government, asked: "If you refuse to recognize this president [Emile Lahoud] then why do you recognize his signature that appointed you as ministers? Then by this logic there is no government. This could be one way this unconstitutional government falls."
Qassem said some in government listen to US assurances that America will launch a war against Iran, weakening Iran and thereby weakening other regional players, including Hizbullah. "They frighten us with America attacking us, Israel attacked us and we crushed them we will do the same to America. America is the aggressor, it is the occupier, it is not strong, Palestine is strong, Iraq is strong, Lebanon is strong, all the Arabs are strong in facing Israel and America," Qassem said.
"What the opposition accepts today it will not accept in three months time as regional developments change," he warned.

Siniora says French firm found Lebanon was on way up in 2004
Report of 7 percent growth fills gap in official figures
By Osama Habib -Daily Star staff
Wednesday, April 04, 2007
BEIRUT: Prime Minister Fouad Siniora said on Tuesday that a report by a French consulting firm showed robust strength in the Lebanese economy, which achieved real growth of 7 percent in 2004, prior to the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri and the multi-stage political crisis that ensued.
Speaking to reporters at the Grand Serail, Siniora disclosed the findings of the consulting firm, INSEE, which conducted a comprehensive survey of the Lebanese economy more than four years ago. "The GDP recorded a negative growth in 2006 as a result of the Israeli war," the prime minister said.
Hariri, who was assassinated in February 2005, believed that Lebanon's GDP was larger than earlier estimates and for this reason he commissioned INSEE in 2003 to conduct the survey. The country's GDP is estimated to be $24 billion, but economists agree that the absence of official statistics makes it difficult to pin down the figure. The International Monetary Fund has previously estimated that GDP growth in Lebanon in 2004 was 5 percent - the first significant growth for the economy in many years. More than 1.3 million tourists came to Lebanon in 2004, when foreign direct investment reached its peak .
Siniora said it was essential to form an accurate picture of the national account.
"The national account for 2003 and 2004 proves that the economy started to recover thanks to the economic boom in the region in general and the success of Paris II conference in particular," Siniora said. He added that at the time the government managed to lower the size of the public debt and reduce the cost of debt servicing, and that all these factors helped stimulate the economy.
Donor states at the 2002 Paris II conference granted Lebanon $2.5 billion in soft loans to help reduce the cost of debt servicing. As a result of the cash injection, interest rates across the board fell by more than 8 percent, allowing commercial banks to provide soft loans to the private sector.
Siniora said that 2004 was a remarkable year because the number of tourist coming to Lebanon jumped by 25 percent. He said the country achieved good growth in the first half of 2006 but the sudden Israeli war dealt a severe blow to economic progress. Economy and Trade Minister Sami Haddad had said earlier that the economy recorded negative growth in the first three months of 2007 because of political problems.
INSEE's study gave a detailed account of the performance of the economy from 2000 through 2004. The study noted a decline in the balance of trade after exports surged. But INSEE reported shrinkage in certain sectors, especially industry and agriculture.
Tourism, banking and trade were the main sectors to witness growth in 2004, according to the French firm. Siniora warned that the current political crisis may further aggravate the economy if no solution is found soon. He said that political stability is essential if $7.6 billion in pledges received at the Paris III international donor's conference are to be put to good use. Most international ratings agencies have urged the Lebanese to settle their difference as soon as possible because any delay in reforms would have a negative impact on the public debt and the economy.
A significant challenge facing Siniora and his team is the refusal of Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri to convene the legislature to discuss privatization and reform laws. Berri demands a greater say for the opposition in government.

Israel Will be at War by Summer, Politician Says
Kenneth R. Timmerman
Saturday, March 31, 2007
Israel will be at war by summer, a prominent opposition member of the Israeli Knesset told NewsMax in an exclusive interview this week. "We have no choice. We will have to do it," said Dr. Arieh Eldad, member of the opposition National Union Party. In a wide-ranging interview during a Passover visit to the United States, Dr. Eldad explained that Israel was facing a new strategic threat, caused in part by its own failure to deal a crushing blow to Hezbollah in Lebanon and the impression of weakness last summer's failed war created in the minds of Israel's enemies.
"Hezbollah is becoming stronger every day," he said. "They are rebuilding their ammunition stores, their medium and long missiles. They are going back to their bunkers in the south of Lebanon ." Israel has "no choice" but to launch a pre-emptive war to destroy Hezbollah as an effective fighting force, he believes. "There is no way the United Nations force [currently in south Lebanon] is going to prevent the smuggling of these missiles across the Syrian border or the fortification of south Lebanon."
The Hezbollah template for attacking Israel is being repeated in Gaza , Dr. Eldad said. "Hamas is building bunkers. They are bringing missiles across the Egyptian border, and the Egyptian government is failing to prevent it. So I hope the next Israeli government will be courageous enough to carry out these operations before it is too late." By too late, he meant before Iran "crosses the red line" and becomes a nuclear weapons-capable state. "If we do not neutralize Hamas, Hezbollah and Syria as a preliminary step, we will not be able to engage Iran ," he added.
Eldad is not suggesting economic or diplomatic "engagement," as the State Department might use the term. He is talking about having Israel 's military take out Iranian nuclear and missile sites if the Western nations refuse to do the job. He is convinced Iran will use nuclear weapons against Israel , should it ever acquire them. And he is equally convinced that economic pressure and diplomatic sanctions will fail to deter Iran from that path.
Sanctions are based on Western logic, he argued. "But when states have missions that are bigger than life, they are not obeying the basic rules of logic that Western civilization obeys." Iran is behaving on a state level as a suicide bomber behaves on the personal level, Dr. Eldad said. "The Iranian regime is willing to sacrifice millions of their own people just to beat the Big Satan [the United States] and the Small Satan [Israel]." Eventually, military action against Iran will become necessary.
Like most Israeli leaders, Dr. Eldad would prefer that the United States and its partners take out Iranian nuclear and missile sites, if for no other reason than the vastly superior conventional firepower the U.S. could bring to bear.
Because Iran has built its nuclear plants in deeply buried, hardened facilities, it will be difficult if not impossible for Israel to destroy them with conventional weapons, Dr. Eldad said. "If Israel is left alone and the point of no return [in Iran 's nuclear weapons program] arrives, then Israel will have to do the job. But most probably we will not be able to do it with conventional warheads. And this is something the world should know."
Dr. Eldad has served for the past four years on the Knesset's Defense and Foreign Affairs committee, and has received classified briefings on Israel 's military capabilities and on Iran 's progress toward building nuclear weapons. Those briefings have been sobering, he said. "Once we reach the eve of destruction of a new Holocaust [from Iran], we will not think of anything else. We will be ready to destroy the nuclear infrastructure of Iran at whatever cost it takes. That means we will be ready to use unconventional weapons," he said.
A would-renowned plastic surgeon by trade, Dr. Eldad has seen the horror of the terror war against Israel up close. As head of the burns trauma unit at Hadassah hospital, his surgeons treated 3,000 casualties from terrorist attacks over the past seven years. "Among them were a couple of terrorists who were not killed. And I treated them," he said. One man, a Lebanese accountant named Hussein Mikdad, blew off both his own legs, one arm, most of his remaining fingers, and lost both eyes when he detonated his suicide bomb by accident in his East Jerusalem hotel room. Sixty percent of his body was covered with burns.
"He couldn't understand why I was fighting for his life and treating him," Dr. Eldad said. "I said, I was fighting for his life because, as an Israeli citizen, I believed he deserved to live in his current condition." Dr. Eldad saved his live, and Mikdad was eventually returned to Lebanon in exchange for the bodies of several Israeli soldiers who had been killed there. Few in Israel expect the current government of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to last for long.
In addition to ongoing corruption scandals, which have seen the criminal prosecution of the Minister of Justice, a government-appointed body known as the Vinograd commission is investigating the botched management of last summer's war. The commission has already forced the resignation of Chief of Staff, Gen. Dan Haluz. Eldad believes Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Defense Minister Amir Peretz could be next. "The government of Israel abandoned millions of its citizens to the mercy of Katyusha missiles [during the Lebanon war]. They failed to provide them with food and medical supplies when they were needed, or to evacuate them," he said.
Instead, non-government organizations had to step in, including "these strange guys, like this Russian oligarch, who everyone started to call the savior of the nation." Eldad was referring to Russian-Israeli billionaire, Arkady Gaydamak, who spent millions of dollars of his own money last summer to house and feed 6,000 Israelis who fled their homes in the north of the country to escape the Hezbollah rocket attacks. "I don't think they mismanaged the war to cause harm. Ehud Olmert is just totally incapable of being prime minister." He called Defense Minister Amir Peretz, a former union boss, "a wonderful labor leader. I'd be the first to recommend him to go to Lebanon to organize a labor union strike."
But his performance during last summer's war showed that "once we have a real war, we're in trouble." Dr. Eldad expects that the Olmert government will fall in the next few weeks, either from the corruption scandals or as a result of the Vinograd Commission findings. While Olmert's ruling Kadima party will try to cobble together another coalition, Dr. Eldad believes they will fail. "I expect new elections within a few months. And that's what Israel really needs, for the preparation of the next war," he said.
© NewsMax 2007. All rights reserved - Reprinted from

Mufti of Tyre adds voice to chorus calling on Parliament to convene
By Mohammed Zaatari
Daily Star staff
Wednesday, April 04, 2007
TYRE: The mufti of Tyre and Jabal Amel said on Tuesday he was surprised that a parliamentary session had yet to be convened, adding that "if bad economic conditions and severe divisions among the Lebanese prevent Parliament from convening, then when will the legislature meet?"
"Protests are held around the world to call for establishing parliaments that reflect their viewpoints, while in Lebanon MPs are holding protests to call for convening a parliamentary session," said Sayyed Ali al-Amin.
March 14 Forces MPs held their third protest on Tuesday in front of Parliament demanding that an ordinary legislative session be convened. The year's first ordinary session was scheduled for March 20, or the first Tuesday after March 15.
Amin said the current government "is constitutional and has Parliament's confidence."
"Dialogue should be resumed among all of the country's parties," Amin said, stressing the need to return to constitutional institutions.
Amin also called on the international community to support Lebanon by supporting its legal institutions.
"If Lebanon emerges from this crisis, it will be a model to follow in the region and the whole world in terms of peace and coexistence," Amin said.
Amin urged ministers to compensate those who incurred damage during last summer's war with Israel "directly and without any mediation."
"The Lebanese government issues checks for war-stricken people while Hizbullah and the Amal Movement distribute them," Amin said. "So people think Hizbullah and Amal are the ones offering them money."

Moussa rejects Israel's offer for talks as 'not serious'
Compiled by Daily Star staff
Wednesday, April 04, 2007
Arab League chief Amr Moussa on Tuesday rejected an Israeli invitation to participate in a regional summit to re-activate the peace process, describing it as "not serious." "The letter wasn't serious and offered nothing new," the secretary general said during a news conference in Cairo with Norwegian Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Stoere. "It's only goal was to get normalization for free."
Moussa added that the invitation came in the form of a letter from Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to participate in a meeting of Israelis, Palestinians and "moderate" Arab nations. He said the rejected the offer because the Israelis wanted to modify the Arab peace initiative and were describing the return of Palestinian refugees as a "red line."
Olmert said on Sunday that he was ready to attend a summit with Arab leaders to discuss a Saudi-drafted peace plan and called on Arab nations to convene such a meeting. At their summit in Riyadh last week, Arab leaders revived the five-year-old plan that offers Israel normal relations if it withdraws from all land seized in the 1967 war, and allows for the creation of a Palestinian state and the return of Palestinian refugees.
Israel rejected the plan when it was first adopted in 2002, but has now said it could serve as a basis for talks provided there were changes on the refugee issue, something the Arab heads of state rejected in Riyadh.
In a related development, Palestinian Foreign Minister Ziad Abu Amr continued with a diplomatic drive to persuade European countries to help lift a punishing financial embargo on his government. In Paris, he met with Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin on Tuesday on the final day of his visit to France to discuss prospects for resuming aid. Abu Amr described the one-hour meeting as "excellent," before leaving to Austria. He declined to give details.
French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy said following talks on Monday that the Palestinian government must take additional steps, including freeing a French-Israeli soldier captured in the Gaza Strip, before aid can resume.
"This is the next step that we await from the Palestinian government and which will led us to confirm the stance that we are taking today," Douste-Blazy said.
Corporal Gilad Shalit, who is a citizen of both France and Israel, was abducted in a cross-border raid last June by militants from three groups, including the armed wing of Hamas, and there has been no sign of life from him since. The visit by Abu Amr in Paris and Vienna and a trip to Rome on Monday by Information Minister Mustafa Barghouti are the first forays in Europe by representatives of the unity government. - Reuters, AFP

Academics reject British paper's claim that Maronites are fleeing Islamization
Lebanese of all faiths say they want to emigrate for economic reasons
By Iman Azzi -Daily Star staff
Wednesday, April 04, 2007
BEIRUT: Preliminary poll data from a Beirut-based report published in the Sunday Telegraph was met with skepticism here on Tuesday over claims that Islamic fundamentalism was a factor for Maronite migration. Residents and academics agreed that a stagnant economy remained the driving force for Lebanese emigration.
But according to an article in the London Sunday Telegraph, Islamic fundamentalism is an equally motivating factor for Maronites leaving the country.
"Christians are fleeing Lebanon to escape political and economic crises and signs that radical Islam is on the rise in the country," said the article, quoting an unreleased poll by the Beirut-based Information International publication.
"Many who remain fear that a violent showdown between rival Sunni and Shiite factions is looming," the British daily reported, again quoting Information International. A representative for Information International refused comment on the Sunday Telegraph article, saying only that the poll would be published at the end of April. It remains unclear how the publication collected data for the article or how many people were polled.
The article acknowledges that a desire to migrate seems to be one thing that unites people across the sectarian divide.
"Some 22 percent of Shiites and 26 percent of Sunnis say they are considering going abroad," the article said, once more quoting the poll data.
"Lebanon has always been a bastion of religious tolerance, but now it is moving toward the model of Islamization seen in Iraq and Egypt," Father Samir Samir, a Jesuit teacher of Islamic Studies at Beirut's UniversitŽ Saint-Joseph, told the Sunday Telegraph.
"Christine, another Christian woman, said that all of her family's younger generation had left the country, adding that Tripoli had become increasingly Islamized in recent years. There is a rising number of veiled women and religiously bearded men on the streets - although she blamed economic and political instability for much of the emigration," the article said.
However, those interviewed by The Daily Star on Tuesday said a stagnant economy and too few jobs were the main reasons for migration.
"It is true that children want to leave, but it has nothing to do with religion," said Antoine Corm, who owns a small convenience store in Achrafieh.
"My son finished school and didn't find work here, so now he's just having fun until his visa for Saudi Arabia goes through," he added.
"I'm Maronite, but the problem isn't religious, it's national. We don't know what's going to happen. It has everything to do with money," Corm added.
"I'm a Sunni. I want to leave too," said Rashid Allemeddin, a customer who overheard the conversation. "Both my kids are in Australia. If I could follow them I would."Eugene Sensenig-Dabbous, a professor at Notre Dame University and co-author of a 64-page report, entitled "Insecurity, Migration and Return: The Case of Lebanon Following the Summer 2006 War," expressed hesitation over the findings cited in Sunday's article.
For Sensenig-Dabbous, who has not seen the Information International report, the reasons that Lebanese of any faith leave their country are political and economic instability, although he said Christians have an easier time settling elsewhere.
"Christians can choose from a huge network of opportunities for travel. There is a pull factor. Lebanese Christians abroad are established, so it's easier for the Christians to emigrate. But the push factor, what is driving them out, is the same for everyone," he said.
"The well established networks play into their migration," Sensenig-Dabbous said. "Christians have been emigrating since the 1880s. Massive Muslim emigration began during the [1975-1990] Civil War."The first wave of Lebanese emigrants was made up of Christians who did not wish to fight under the Ottoman Army and looked for opportunities abroad, he explained.
Sensenig-Dabbous also disputed a claim in the Sunday Telegraph article that 100,000 Maronites "have submitted visa applications to foreign embassies," and argued that he knew personally that such a figure was impossible to attain from "stubborn" embassies. A secretary for the Maronite patriarch also denied that religious factors were pushing Maronites out of Lebanon. "We Maronites aren't afraid. We've had problems in the past and we stayed and we will this time too," Father Michel Awit told The Daily Star, adding that "the study is wrong."Raja, 18, said that he was in the middle of applying to colleges in the United States, where he would live with his uncle."I'm going to Kuwait Thursday to visit my dad," the young Druze said. "He's been working there over 15 years. I'm filling out my applications to the US, and I don't think I want to come back. Most of my friends are leaving, from all religions."

Separating Economy from Politics: a Precondition for Protecting Investments in Lebanon
By: Samer Renno Al-Hayat - 04/04/07//
Some, particularly in the Arab countries, live by the motto that 'capital is coward'.
I had this depiction in mind upon reading statements recently made by UAE investor Khalaf Al Habtoor in Beirut, in which he let out a scream of pain and warning that the situation in Lebanon has hit rock bottom and that it has become difficult to predict the outcome of the current economic conditions and investment atmosphere.
As a matter of fact, I did not sense any cowardice in Habtoor's statements, and even wished that similar calls would be made by hundreds, or indeed, thousands of Lebanese investors who put their trust in this small country and contributed, in many ways, to weaving a dream they held for long periods of expatriation, which soon evaporated as a result of the conflicting interests of political rivals.
Eight years ago, the term 'coward' had no place in the feasibility study I laid down to act as the core for a consulting agency operating in the field of public relations.
Back then, the move earned me other epithets such as 'impulsive', 'careless', or even 'insane', for choosing Beirut as the company's regional headquarters instead of Dubai, the preferred and 'obvious' choice for a large number of public relations firms.
My answer to those who questioned the soundness of my decision was that an investor must not consider the current situation in the market he plans to invest in, but to have the courage and the vision that would enable him to run his investment in a way that yields benefits to the country they opted to invest in and enables him to fulfill his dream.
Unfortunately, many of these expectations turned out to be correct. Any one opting to invest in Lebanon must be prepared to bear the consequences of their decision.
The general atmosphere, and, to a certain extent, the State policy and its outcomes evoke pessimism for being founded on haphazardness and indifference to a future in which many of those who ventured to invest predicted would rise to a rank of regional competitiveness with the top players.
This is how some of us had based our feasibility studies, but overlooked the 'risk analysis', given the fact that we live in a market marred by many internal and external risks.
The essence of the Lebanese predicament is primarily political, in contrast to the well-established norms in all countries.
Throughout the history of the Lebanese Republic, politicians placed their interests above any other interests in stark contrast to neighboring or even geographically distant countries that employ politics to achieve the objective of immunizing the domestic situation by creating a positive atmosphere yielding economic development.
Politics for the sake of politics, however, becomes an absurdity that might play a role in breathing life into the 'economy' or the personal fortune of those politicians.
But what about the homeland?! Yes, the homeland; composed of groups of citizens who have grown to suffer some sort of an unmatched material bankruptcy and an unprecedented emigration of minds and capital.
The worrisome aspect of the current Lebanese situation lies in the fact that capitalists, particularly Arab capitalists, would like to invest in the local market, but the degree of risks is set to outstrip the 'lovely climate' and the creative service long touted by the Lebanese to attract Arab investors.
What climate are we talking about here? Is the mere notion that skiing in Faraya and swimming in Jbeil during the course of the same day are enough to attract tourists and investors?
Certainly not, the answer may be seen in the following story: we were approached by an international real estate company after the Israeli war ended last summer to lay down a public relations strategy and reach an understanding with respect to a project worth hundreds of millions of dollars that the company planned to set up in Lebanon.
In addition to the economic objective, those in charge of the project sought to convey a message of support to Lebanon, especially in the aftermath of the war, the essence of which was: 'we are with you and we stand by you'.
A month after the meeting, when contacts were lost with that company, I inquired about the project only to be clearly told that the project was shelved for the following well-founded reason: in the confrontation with Israel the adversary was known, allowing our Arab and brotherly friends to take the supportive stance to Lebanon and its people, while in the thicket of the internal political turmoil, it would be impossible to side with one against another.
This is how Lebanese politicians wasted a one-time opportunity, and one can be certain that similar examples of projects that opted for neighboring countries like Jordan, Syria and Egypt exist, especially since we live at a time that is characterized by a multitude of investment portfolios spurred by the oil boom, and the investors' constant and multi-faceted search for promising, yet stable markets.
According to the science of politics and economics, both fields work together for the benefit of the homeland, while the situation in Lebanon is such that all sciences seem to shatter on the rock of sectarian and class conflicts and special interests.
Therefore, the Lebanese must call for a separation between economy and politics by the State, so long as politics in Lebanon inherently rely on bickering and standoffs, there will always be a risk of total economic collapse.
They must also demand the setting up of a committee of economic specialists and representatives from the various Lebanese sectors, as well as representatives from friendly countries, to tackle the economic crisis.
The aims of this group can be summarized as laying down a serious, long-term strategy aimed at reviving the economy, and conferring with representatives from friendly countries on means of restoring foreign investors' confidence in order to go ahead with their investments, as well as setting forth an integrated public relations plan to promote the image of Lebanon as a regional hub at which Arab and international firms line up, not just for the beauty of its nature, but also for the available skilled and educated workforce, and the facility of restriction-free investments.
Will the investors find these conditions in light of the current unfortunate Lebanese situation? Certainly not, as anyone with the most rudimentary economic experience can foretell an eminent disaster that could strike Lebanon unless it seeks to achieve the separation of economy from politics and the pursuit of laying down a serious plan.
* Samer Renno is an expert in public relations and crisis management

French Constants in Lebanon
Randa Takieddin      Al-Hayat     - 04/04/07//
After about a month, precisely since May 6, France will elect a new president to succeed the current President Jacques Chirac. While the opinion polls indicate that the candidate of the ruling rightwing party, Nicolas Sarkozy, will win the presidential contest, matters are not certain and anything is still possible in the election campaign.
Socialist candidate Ségolène Royal has a chance at winning, and center candidate François Bayrou has an equal chance. The game of politics is open and it is wrong to think that what the opinion polls reveal is certain. After all, the opinion polls turned out to be wrong during the 2002 elections, since they said that Socialist candidate Lionel Jospin would win over Chirac, without taking into consideration the extreme rightwing candidate, Jean-Marie Le Pen, who was running against Chirac in the second round of elections. Surprises seem likely this time as well, because no one knows how the French people will vote in the first round on April 22, then on May 6.
In any case, we must reassure anyone, in Lebanon or Syria, who thinks that they can 'take a break' from Chirac and his defense of Lebanon's sovereignty and independence. His defense of the right of the Lebanese to the establishment of an international tribunal that will try those who assassinated and murdered Lebanon's politicians and journalists, beginning with the former head of government Rafik al-Hariri. Anyone who thinks that is wrong, because the constants of French diplomacy will remain as they are regardless of who wins the presidency.
If the coming president is Nicolas Sarkozy, as the polls show, he has confirmed time and again that he will not bargain over the international tribunal or the independence or sovereignty of Lebanon. If after being elected president he appoints former Prime Minister Alain Juppé as Foreign  minister, and Juppé accepts the poat, then France's foreign policy will be in the hands of someone who is fully aware of the two portfolios of Lebanon and Syria, and all of the files related to the whole Arab World.
It is unlikely that Sarkozy will change the French diplomatic doctrine led by Chirac. There may be a different way of going about it and diplomats in France might even work toward holding direct talks with Syria. But such dialogue would not contain anything new, as Syria's state of isolation in general and its isolation from France was caused by Syria's diplomacy, not French policy. This is especially true since Chirac opened the doors of France and Europe to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who closed them all himself. Resuming dialogue between the two countries presumes reaching results, but the problem at this stage is from Syria.
If Royal takes the presidency, then the Foreign Ministry could return to the Jean-Louis Bianco Chief of Staff for the late President François Mitterrand or former minister of European affairs, Élisabeth Guigou. Both are well versed in the Lebanese and Syrian portfolios, while their team includes diplomats who know the Middle East very well. There is Ambassador Jean-Claude Cousseran, who had previously worked as an ambassador in Damascus and Beirut, as well as diplomat Jean-Pierre Phileo, who is also very familiar with the region and the problems of Syria and Lebanon. The constants remain the same, but the dialogue between Paris and Damascus may resume, with conditions that will achieve results and without any concessions over the international tribunal or Lebanon's sovereignty and independence.
As for the third candidate, Bayrou, his chances of reaching the presidency seem weak according to the polls because he says that he wants to work with both the right and leftwing. This led to the dispersal of his electoral base, but no one knows if he can ultimately gather those who do not want Sarkozy and do not like Royal.
If Bayrou wins he will rely on diplomats from the Foreign Ministry who will inform him of the constants of French foreign policy. Currently working by his side is a former French journalist who lived and worked in the Middle East and Lebanon, and wrote a whole book about Kamal Jumblatt, Phillip Labosterl.
Generally speaking, the constants will not change, but the approach and drive will regarding some issues, especially since the French people love Lebanon and are concerned about it. The Lebanese opposition and Syria's supporters must not celebrate the change in the French presidency, because the French constants are here to stay, and the result of any talks with Syria will be the basis of any new policy.