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Tuesday, November 14, 2006 

Did the BBC get it wrong on Syria and Iran?

The BBC's interpretation of the Blair speech is that Blair is cool on talks with Iran/Syria - that Blair doesn't want talks at any cost.

But most other news organisations took from the speech that Blair is pushing for talks. (CNN/Al Jazeera/Al Arabiyah/Al Alam/The Guardian/The Independent).

So who is right?

Well, both. It is certainly true that Blair is pushing for talks, and taking advantage of the new situation in the US.

But the threats flowed thick and fast. Hizbollah was labelled as a terror organisation (stop supporting terrorism in Lebanon was the phrase, in a warning to Iran). It's not an offer of talks, but a demand for action on Iraq/Lebanon - face the consequences of isolation if you don't, was Blair's alternative.

'Blair pushing for talks' is the headline we knew we could use for this speech. 'Blair cool on talks' is the headline you might choose if you actually listen to the speech.

That is Harreri ,Syria' freindly Arab,
Hariri criticises proposed dialogue with Iran and Syria
By Ferry Biedermann in Beirut

Published: November 15 2006 12:23 | Last updated: November 15 2006 12:23

The son of the mudered former Lebanese prime minister Rafiq Hariri has expressed unease about calls in the US and Great Britain for a dialogue with Iran and Syria to tackle the problems of the Middle East.

Saad Hariri, leader of Lebanon’s anti-Syrian parliamentary majority, told the Financial Times that, “the Syrians will use it to kill more Lebanese”. Many Lebanese blamed Syria for Hariri’s murder, in February last year, although Damascus denies all responsibility.

Mr Hariri issued a stark warning against engaging with the government in Damascus, saying: “The west and the Arab world have to understand that this regime has nothing to give to the world except chaos, terrorism and assassinations.”

He spoke as his country faced a worsening political clash between his camp and pro-Syrian parties, led by the Shia Hizbollah movement, which is also close to Iran. Hizbollah and its allies pulled out of the government of Fouad Siniora, prime minister, after political negotiations collapsed at the weekend.

Hizbollah’s leader, Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, wants more of a say for himself and his allies in the wake of what Hizbollah calls a “divine victory” over Israel in this summer’s war.

Six pro-Syrian ministers resigned shortly before the cabinet voted on Monday to approve a UN draft for an international tribunal to try those accused of carrying out the Hariri assassination. Saad Hariri insisted that the pro-Syrian Shia movements Hizbollah and Amal were intent on blocking the tribunal and that he was determined to see through its establishment to try his father’s killers. “After that we can talk about everything,” he said.

Mr Hariri said that he was eager to engage the parties in political talks. “There is a middle way if they want a middle way but if it is about crippling the international tribunal, there is no middle way,” he said.

Hizbollah and Amal, have repeatedly denied that their actions are intended to thwart the establishment of an international tribunal. Following the cabinet’s approval of the tribunal, Mr Nasrallah said that the government no longer had any credibility, according to Lebanon’s al-Saffir newspaper. Speaking at a rally in Hizbollah’s stronghold in the southern suburbs of Beirut that were heavily damaged by Israeli bombardments, he vowed that, “a clean-handed government will come and rebuild.”

Hizbollah has said that it will stage peaceful street protests to back up its political demands but it has not yet announced a date for the start of the demonstrations.

Explaining his concerns regarding a dialogue with Syria and Iran, Mr Hariri said: “We have had our history with the US and Great Britain giving up Lebanon to the Syrian regime.” He was referring to 1990, when the US gave Syria a free hand in Lebanon in exchange for that country’s participation in the coalition against Saddam Hussein.

He accused Syria and Iran of trying to take over Lebanon and denied that his own camp was serving US interests. “We don’t represent American interests, we represent the Lebanese interest,” he said.

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2006

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