Lahoud Calls for Greater EU Role in Middle East
Lebanese President Emile Lahoud, on a visit to Paris, urged France and the European Union on Monday to play a greater role in helping to bring peace to the Middle East.
"Without an increased presence and role by the European Union and France, there will be no just peace," Lahoud told reporters after talks with French President Jacques Chirac.
The Lebanese president said European intervention was necessary to counterbalance the "active Jewish lobby in the United States".
In his toast at a state dinner later in the evening, Lahoud went further, denouncing the "extremist and aggressive policy" of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon which he said put the whole Middle East peace process into question.
Lahoud is the first Lebanese president to visit France officially since 1965.
Chirac reiterated during his dinner speech French concern over Lebanon's unwillingness to deal with attacks in the Shebaa Farms area by Syrian-backed Hizbollah fighters.
Lahoud has said Lebanon will continue to oppose Israel's presence in the Shabaa Farms border area which Beirut claims. Syria, the main power broker in Lebanon with 35,000 troops in the country, backs the claim.
The United Nations says the Shabaa Farms area, at the foot of the Golan Heights, is Syrian territory occupied by Israel. The UN says Israel's withdrawal from South Lebanon after a 22-year occupation is complete.
"According to international law, Lebanon and Syria have to define between themselves the limitations of their borders, which has been done," Lahoud said. "It is not up to the United Nations to decide is the Shabaa Farms are Lebanese or not."
Chirac rejected this argument, saying France remained convinced that only a global agreement, in accordance with the resolutions passed by the UN Security Council, could ensure lasting peace in the region.
Lahoud had explained earlier that Lebanese troops were deployed a short distance from the border with Israel but not along the border itself because Lebanon and Israel were at war.
Lahoud reiterated his conditions for an end to the conflict, which include the return of the Shabaa Farms, but said he did not believe Sharon really wanted peace.
"What do they have in addition to their F-16s? The atomic bomb? Are they going to use it against themselves?" he asked.
Lahoud will meet Prime Minister Lionel Jospin on Tuesday for talks which are expected to touch on Lebanon's difficult economic situation -- the result of years of hefty spending after the 1975-90 civil war.
Lahoud's Paris trip follows last week's visit by Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. Sharon is set to visit Paris early next month and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad will make a trip to the French capital at the end of June -- PARIS (Reuters)
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