US envoy's view of Mid-East prospects puzzles Lebanese: Christopher says last week's Israeli bombings of villages in south 'offers a new opportunity for peace'

IT WAS a disturbing visit for the Lebanese. It was not Warren Christopher's armoury that worried them, although the US Secretary of State arrived at President Elias Hrawi's villa at Zahle yesterday with enough gunmen, bodyguards and identikit M-16 toting Rambos to deter an Israeli air raid or two.

Mr Hrawi did have some last- minute problems installing new air conditioning for the elderly Mr Christopher, although a US diplomat was laid back enough to turn up reading Lawrence Durrell's The Dark Labyrinth, a title that fairly reflected the Lebanese government's problems.

For what troubled Mr Hrawi and his Prime Minister, Rafiq Hariri - according to the Lebanese wandering about the villa - was the tacit message Mr Christopher brought: forget UN Security Council resolution 425, move forward in peace talks with the Israelis, break free of Syrian control. And remember what happened in southern Lebanon last week.

On the surface, all was friendly. Mr Christopher arrived overland with his armoured cavalcade from the Syrian border after talks with President Hafez Assad at which the two men agreed 'much harder work is required' in the peace process. Last week's Israeli bombardment of the villages of south Lebanon, Mr Christopher said, was 'a remainder of what the region could look like if peace doesn't come'. And, astonishingly, he added that the bombings 'offered a new opportunity for peace'. This puzzled the Lebanese.

But their concern focused on the US's longstanding demands to the Lebanese negotiators in Washington, who have refused to abandon UN resolution 425 calling for an unconditional Israeli withdrawal from southern Lebanon, in favour of bilateral talks that would, in Lebanese eyes, reward Israel with post-peace trade and water agreements in return for ending their occupation.

'The Americans are pushing harder and harder for us to break with the Syrians,' a Lebanaese official said. 'But we cannot do that. The Syrians are very strong. Yet the US is saying we must press ahead with our talks with Israel in front of the Syrians.'

If the official's report is accurate - and given his access, it should be - then Mr Christopher's comments in Damascus yesterday were a good deal less innocent than they sounded. That the Israeli bombing of Lebanon, which killed 128 people and drove 300,000 refugees on to the roads, might provide a new opportunity for peace is exactly what Israeli leaders have been saying. And the suggestion that massive Israeli raids might follow a breakdown in the peace talks sounded to the Lebanese distinctly unnerving. Was this an observation or a threat from Mr Christopher?

Mr Hariri is said to be under increasing pressure from the Americans to fall in line with their peace talks scenario - pressure which he is so far resisting. 'Syria is not going to allow us to do this,' another Lebanese said in the gardens of the Hrawi villa. 'Syria is more powerful here than Israel, and Syria does not want Lebanon making deals with the Israelis until it knows it will get back the Golan Heights from Israel. So we want to know: what will be the price of refusing what Israel and America want?

In apparent vindication of the Israeli contention that its operation in Lebanon would not only not harm the peace process but give it a push, Syria's Foreign Minister, Farouk ash- Shar, said the Syrians 'feel somewhat optimistic' that Mr Christopher's visit will get peace talks moving, writes Charles Richards. Mr Shar said at a news conference with Mr Christopher that 'the recent events in Lebanon, had they continued - the shelling, the bombardment - would have buried the peace process'.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer

£27500 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Telemarketers / Sales - Home Based - OTE £23,500

£19500 - £23500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Experienced B2B Telemarketer wa...

Recruitment Genius: Showroom Assistant

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This global company are looking for two Showro...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales Executive - OTE £25,000

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This publishing company based i...

Day In a Page

Fifa corruption: The 161-page dossier that exposes the organisation's dark heart

The 161-page dossier that exposes Fifa's dark heart

How did a group of corrupt officials turn football’s governing body into what was, in essence, a criminal enterprise? Chris Green and David Connett reveal all
Mediterranean migrant crisis: 'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves,' says Tripoli PM

Exclusive interview with Tripoli PM Khalifa al-Ghweil

'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves'
Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles: How the author foretold the Californian water crisis

Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles

How the author foretold the Californian water crisis
Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison as authorities crackdown on dissent in the arts

Art attack

Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison
Marc Jacobs is putting Cher in the limelight as the face of his latest campaign

Cher is the new face of Marc Jacobs

Alexander Fury explains why designers are turning to august stars to front their lines
Parents of six-year-old who beat leukaemia plan to climb Ben Nevis for cancer charity

'I'm climbing Ben Nevis for my daughter'

Karen Attwood's young daughter Yasmin beat cancer. Now her family is about to take on a new challenge - scaling Ben Nevis to help other children
10 best wedding gift ideas

It's that time of year again... 10 best wedding gift ideas

Forget that fancy toaster, we've gone off-list to find memorable gifts that will last a lifetime
Paul Scholes column: With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards

Paul Scholes column

With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards
Heysel disaster 30th anniversary: Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget fateful day in Belgium

Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget Heysel

Thirty years ago, 39 fans waiting to watch a European Cup final died as a result of a fatal cocktail of circumstances. Ian Herbert looks at how a club dealt with this tragedy
Amir Khan vs Chris Algieri: Khan’s audition for Floyd Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation, says Frank Warren

Khan’s audition for Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation

The Bolton fighter could be damned if he dazzles and damned if he doesn’t against Algieri, the man last seen being decked six times by Pacquiao, says Frank Warren
Blundering Tony Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

Blundering Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

For Arabs – and for Britons who lost their loved ones in his shambolic war in Iraq – his appointment was an insult, says Robert Fisk
Fifa corruption arrests: All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue

Fifa corruption arrests

All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue, says Ian Herbert
Isis in Syria: The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of President Assad and militant fighters

The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of Assad and Isis

In Syrian Kurdish cantons along the Turkish border, the progressive aims of the 2011 uprising are being enacted despite the war. Patrick Cockburn returns to Amuda
How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields: Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape the US

How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields

Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape to the US
Stephen Mangan interview: From posh buffoon to pregnant dad, the actor has quite a range

How Stephen Mangan got his range

Posh buffoon, hapless writer, pregnant dad - Mangan is certainly a versatile actor