Arab League envoy sees chances for settlement in Lebanon

( dpa ) - Arab League chief Amr Mussa said Wednesday a solution to Lebanon's ongoing presidential crisis could be reached "in a couple of days" and described his initial talks in the country as "encouraging."

Mussa flew to Beirut earlier Wednesday to facilitate the implementation of an Arab initiative calling for the election of Army Commander General Michel Suleiman as a consensus president and the formation of a new government.

Speaking after his first meeting with Parliamentary Speaker Nabih Berri, Mussa said the talks were "useful, very positive and encouraging too."

Asked whether he would leave Lebanon prior to working out a settlement, Mussa said: "I intend to stay until this solution is achieved, and it could be achieved in a couple of days."

Mussa's main task in Beirut is to seek the approval of all sides for the three-stage Arab League proposal to hold a vote to fill the Lebanese presidency, vacant since November 24.

Last Saturday, Arab foreign ministers agreed in Cairo on a plan that would see Suleiman elected as president, a national unity government formed and a new electoral law adopted.

Told that the feuding factions in Lebanon have conflicting interpretations of the Arab initiative, Mussa replied: "Let's not get into small issues through which Lebanon can be lost."

"The initiative is crystal clear and the issue is related to political will and needs neither clarification nor explanation or dictionary or atlas."

Mussa said a roadside bomb attack against a vehicle belonging to UN peacekeepers in the southern coastal town of Rmeileh on Tuesday is "a negative development, but we hope that it would not affect our efforts to contain the crisis and settle it."

Two Irish peacekeeper were slightly wounded in the blast.

Referring to allegations that Syria is still meddling in Lebanese affairs, Mussa stressed that Syrian and Saudi cooperation aimed at supporting his efforts was "available."

"I'm a witness to its existence and I am very pleased by progress that has been achieved," Mussa said. "Here I speak on behalf of all the Arab states, Syria and Saudi Arabia included.

Lebanon's political crisis, which started in November 2006 when six pro-Syrian ministers quit the Western-backed government of Prime Minister Fouad Seniora, resulted in the failure to elect a president by November 23, when the mandate of pro-Syrian president Emile Lahoud expired.

A vote in the Lebanese parliament to elect a new head of state has been postponed 11 times, and the legislature is due to meet on January 12 for a new attempt.

Mussa is scheduled to meet with Hezbollah officials and their ally Christian hardliner Michel Aoun on Thursday.

Hezbollah MP Hussein Haj al-Hassan said his party was awaiting Mussa's guarantees that there would be "no winner and no loser" as part of the settlement plan.

The Western-backed ruling majority has already declared its approval of the plan.

Ruling majority MP Ammar Houri said that if "the guarantees were given today, the president could be elected at the end of this week."

A Western diplomatic source in Beirut told Deutsche Presse-Agentur dpa that "optimism comes from the backing of Iran and Syria of the Arab plan, because they are the main backers of the opposition in Lebanon."

The ruling majority in Lebanon has accused the opposition of acting under pressure from Syria to block an agreement to settle the crisis in Lebanon.

Syria was Lebanon's main powerbroker for 30 years until the assassination of premier Rafik Hariri in 2005, which Damascus and its allies in Lebanon were accused of plotting. The neighbouring Arab country has vehemently denied the charge.

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