Middle East
Lebanon defence talks adjourned
Rival political parties adjourn talks on national defence strategy to April 15.
Last Modified: 09 Mar 2010 17:27 GMT
National defence strategy talks have repeatedly been adjourned due to successive political crises [AFP]

Lebanon's rival political parties have adjourned talks on Hezbollah's weapons to April 15.

Tuesday's national defence strategy talks, which were launched in 2006, have repeatedly been adjourned because of the successive political crises that have shaken Lebanon.

The stated aim is for Lebanon's western and Saudi-backed majority, and a coalition led by the Shia group, which is supported politically by Iran and Syria, to agree on a national defence strategy.

But a major stumbling block to reaching agreement has been Hezbollah's weapons.

Reporting from Beirut, Al Jazeera's Nisreen el Shamayleh said the last time these talks were held was prior to the Lebanese elections in June 2009.

"Today about twenty leaders from Lebanon's parties and parliamentarians met to discuss one issue which is Lebanon's national defense strategy.

"Sources close to the Lebanese prime minister Saad al-Hariri have said the meeting was very positive and constructive and pointed out to the fact that those who criticise the existence of Hezbollah's arms in Lebanon should think about how the Lebanese army is not very well equipped to face any Israeli threat and aggression.

"So until then there will be a complimentary relationship between Hezbollah and the Lebanese army which is what they are trying to achieve. So this is more about national dialogue rather than disarming Hezbollah"

The group, which waged a devastating war against Israel in 2006 and is considered a terrorist organisation by Washington, is the only group in Lebanon that has refused to surrender its arsenal following the country's 1975-1990 civil war.

It argues that Lebanon's army is ill-equipped and as such its weapons are needed to defend the country against any aggression from enemy state of Israel.

The majority, however, argues that any decision concerning war or peace must be made by the state.

Setting the tone

Prior to the resumption of the talks on Tuesday, Hezbollah set the tone saying that its weapons were not open to discussion.

Hezbollah says Lebanon's army is not capable of defending against Israeli invasion [AFP]

"We are not going to the negotiating table to discuss the weapons of the resistance or even the raison d'etre of the resistance," Hassan Fadlallah a Hezbollah MP, said.

The majority for its part argues that Hezbollah cannot be allowed to become a state within a state.

"No one is talking about disarming Hezbollah," said Ammar Houry, a majority MP. "We want to come up with a solution whereby Hezbollah's arsenal becomes part of an overall defence strategy overseen by the state."

Analysts, however, say the majority has little room to manoeuvre given that the issue extends far beyond Lebanon's border with regional players Syria and Iran setting the agenda.

'Regional ramifications'

"This is a complex issue that carries regional ramifications," said Osama Safa, head of the Lebanese Centre for Policy studies.

"Israel and Syria have a vested interest. Dialogue is positive but no one believes that this issue is going to be settled in seven or eight sessions or even a year."

The daily Al-Akhbar, close to Hezbollah, summed up the situation on Tuesday with a headline that read "National dialogue: the play," while An-Nahar daily, close to the majority, said no breakthrough was expected.

"Circumstances inside and outside Lebanon point to low expectations and no one should expect results anytime soon," it said in an editorial.

"That's why these talks are taking place with no illusion on anyone's part."

Hezbollah has participated in government since 2005 and has two ministers in the 30-member unity cabinet.

Source:
Al Jazeera and agencies
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