Speaking to a small group of journalists on his way to Beirut, Davutoğlu said that Hezbollah -- which brought down Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri's government in a dispute over a UN tribunal investigating the 2005 assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri -- and Iran, which has close links to the Shiite group, had to be involved in the efforts to find a solution to the crisis.
“We will definitely meet with Hezbollah representatives. As a political party and a group with very strong support within Lebanese society, Hezbollah is one of the most essential elements of this process,” Davutoğlu said earlier in the day, while speaking to reporters before departing for Beirut.
Davutoğlu’s visit to Beirut, in a trip coordinated with Qatari Prime Minister Hamad bin Jassim bin Jaber Al Thani, came after late-night talks with Iran’s acting foreign minister, Ali Akbar Salehi, in Ankara on Monday. Turkish officials said Davutoğlu had briefed Salehi about a meeting in Damascus earlier in the day on Monday, which was attended by Turkish, Syrian and Qatari leaders.
Speaking before the talks with Davutoğlu, Salehi said a solution should come from within the region and opposed the involvement of “foreign actors.” He did not mention any non-regional country, but said actors in the region such as Syria and Saudi Arabia could also be involved in Turkish-Iranian efforts to help stability in Lebanon. “We see no benefit in foreign actors getting involved in this,” Salehi said.
Speaking on Tuesday, Davutoğlu appeared to back Salehi’s call for a regional solution and said Iran would be part of efforts for a settlement. He said Salehi had told him during their talks on Monday that Iran was ready to contribute to Lebanon’s stability and support every Turkish effort to that effect. “Our consultations with Iran will continue. No actor should be left out of this process, otherwise there will be polarization both within Lebanon and on a regional and international scale,” said Davutoğlu.
Last week Hezbollah ministers and their allies toppled the government of Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri, son of the slain Sunni leader Rafik al-Hariri, after he refused to cut Lebanon’s ties with the UN-backed tribunal investigating his father’s killing. The tribunal prosecutor issued a draft indictment on Monday. Its contents were not revealed, but it is expected to accuse members of Hezbollah, which denies any role in the assassination and had accused the tribunal of being an “Israeli tool,” of involvement in the killing.
Seeking to prevent Lebanon from plunging into chaos, Turkey has had talks with leaders of key countries in the region, as well as Lebanese leaders. European heavyweight France, the former colonial power in Lebanon, is also pursuing efforts for stability in Lebanon. French diplomats have said France is calling for the creation of an international “contact group” on Lebanon to negotiate a settlement to the country’s political crisis. The group is expected to include regional countries Syria, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Turkey, as well as the United States and France, and possibly other countries with a stake in Lebanon. Iran, which is due to have talks with major world powers in İstanbul this week on its nuclear program, is not expected to be part of France-led diplomatic efforts.
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said on Monday that he has received a written invitation from French President Nicolas Sarkozy to attend an international meeting on Lebanon and has instructed his staff to respond in the affirmative to the invitation. Erdoğan said seven countries have been invited and that no date has been set for the meeting yet. Iran is not among the countries invited.
Davutoğlu said Turkey would be pleased to attend an international meeting at France’s invitation and insisted, while speaking en route to Beirut, that the position of the permanent members of the UN Security Council was very important. But he emphasized that regional efforts must continue, too. “The regional momentum must continue. Without this regional momentum, it would be difficult to achieve lasting solutions,” he said. He also said he had discussed the situation in Lebanon on the phone with the French and Qatari foreign ministers.
Davutoğlu also said that his government would continue to work for a solution in Lebanon despite a busy period ahead. İstanbul will host a two-day meeting between Iran and the P5+1, comprising the five permanent members of the UN plus Germany, over Tehran’s nuclear program. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will also visit Turkey for talks on bilateral ties, while Alexander Downer, the UN special envoy for Cyprus, will visit ahead of UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s talks with Turkish and Greek Cypriot leaders on Jan. 26.