Lebanese factions hit impasse in tense political dialogue
Leaders to reconvene at end of month after failing to reach agreement on issues like Hezbollah arms.
BEIRUT - Leaders of Lebanon's rival factions, frustrated by weeks of inconclusive talks on the fate of their pro-Syrian president, postponed their much-heralded national dialogue conference Monday until the end of the month and even hinted a decision might not be reached.
Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri said the leaders agreed in four hours of closed talks to postpone the next session until April 28 "in order to decide the presidency issue."
"Either (we reach) agreement on this (presidency) issue or we don't," said Berri, the convener of the conference that began a month ago.
If not, he said, the leaders would move on to the last remaining - but tougher - issue of Hezbollah's weapons. A UN resolution calls for Hezbollah to disarm but the militant guerrilla group, backed by Iran and Syria, has refused to do so.
Lebanon's 14 leaders - pro- and anti-Syrian, Christian and Muslim - have been trying through their unprecedented dialogue to resolve some of the most contentious issues since the end of the 1975-90 civil war.
Monday's was the fifth round of talks since the national dialogue began March 2. The talks have focused on Lahoud's fate and on a 2004 UN Security Council resolution that calls on Hezbollah and Palestinian guerrillas in Lebanon to disarm.
In previous sessions, anti-Syrian factions pressed for the removal of Lahoud, Damascus' top ally.
Syria's nearly three-decade military presence in Lebanon ended last April, breaking Damascus' control of the country. Since then, anti-Syrian parties have gained a majority in parliament and dominate the government.
They have accused Lahoud of being the enforcer of Syrian policy in Lebanon but they do not have the two-thirds majority in parliament needed to oust him. Lahoud, whose term ends in 2007, has rejected demands to step down.
Hezbollah officials have publicly said they favored Lahoud staying in power.
Legislator Butros Harb, a presidential aspirant and one of the anti-Syrian politicians attending the conference, told reporters that the names of some presidential candidates were brought up for the first time during Monday's session but that no consensus was reached.
Under Lebanon's sectarian ruling system, the president should be a Maronite Catholic, the prime minister a Sunni Muslim and the parliament speaker a Shiite Muslim.
Some of those in the dialogue have warned that the anti-Syrian parties may resort to street protests if the conference fails to agree on removing Lahoud.