Lebanon-Syria – Hariri Like Jumblat, Pragmatist Sons With No Memory

(ash-Sharq al-Awsat, September 6 2010)

Prime Minister Saad Hariri said in remarks on Monday he made a mistake when he accused Syria of involvement in his father’s murder but continued to distance the course of the UN-backed tribunal from political accusations. “We made mistakes in some places; at some point we accused Syria of assassinating martyr [former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri] and this was a political accusation,” Hariri told the daily pan-Arab ash-Sharq al-Awsat.

Hariri stressed that false witnesses who “mislead investigations did harm to Syrian-Lebanese ties by politicizing the murder,” while adding that the Lebanese judiciary was in charge of investigating the issue.

His condemnation of false witnesses comes at a time when Syria’s allies in Lebanon, particularly Hizbullah, are calling on the Lebanese judiciary to investigate those witnesses, while condemning the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL) as an Israeli project and refusing to cooperate with the UN-backed court.

Hizbullah’s stance follows Western media reports claiming that the STL’s impending indictment would accuse rogue Hizbullah members of involvement in the murder.

But Hariri distanced the STL’s course from that of the former UN investigation committee. “I do not want to talk much about the STL but I will only say that the court has its course that is not related to previous hasty political accusations,” Hariri said, in reference to previous accusations against Damascus.

The Lebanese premier stressed that he re-evaluated his past relations with Syria and decided to open a new page in ties with Damascus following the formation of a national unity Cabinet in November 2009.

“A man should be pragmatic to build ties on solid grounds and he has to re-evaluate the past years to avoid repeating past mistakes. Thus we did a reevaluation of mistakes form our part toward Syria,” Hariri said.

Since the formation of a national unity Cabinet following a rapprochement in ties between regional power brokers Syria and Saudi Arabia in 2009, Hariri has made three visits to Damascus where he met the Syrian president, the last visit made a week ago.

Commenting on his personal relationship with Damascus and his visits to Syria, Hariri said “he feels himself going to a brotherly and friendly state.”

While Hizbullah remained silent vis-a-vis Hariri’s stances, Ali Hassan Khalil, the top political aid, to the party’s ally, Speaker Nabih Berri, said the premier’s remarks restored Lebanese-Syrian ties on the right track.

Hariri’s first visit to Damascus following the Cabinet formation ended four years of broken ties with Syria, which March 14 parties widely blamed for his father’s assassination. The assassination of Hariri forced Syria, under domestic and international pressure – and in accordance with UN Resolution 1559 – into withdrawing its troops from Lebanon, ending 29 years of military presence.

The first investigation committee, headed by Detlive Mehlis, suspected top Lebanese security officials of involvement in Hariri’s murder. The country’s top four officers were imprisoned for four years, and the potential involvement of Syrian intelligence services in Lebanon was highlighted. But Mehlis’ two successors shrouded their investigations in secrecy until the four officers were released in April 2009 by STL Prosecutor Daniel Bellemare, only one month before the establishment of the UN-backed tribunal.