DUBAI (Reuters) - U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Washington might seek to force the setting up of a tribunal in the murder of a Lebanese former premier under a chapter of the UN Charter which makes Security Council decisions mandatory.
“Absolutely. If we have to, we would push for setting up the tribunal under Chapter 7 because it is extremely important that the court is set up so that Lebanon goes back to normal,” Rice told Al Arabiya television in remarks aired on Monday.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon sent special legal counsel Nicolas Michel to Beirut last month to seek a way out of a domestic impasse over the tribunal, but without success.
Diplomats have said that Western powers believe Lebanon’s feuding politicians are unlikely to agree any time soon to endorse the tribunal and that U.N. action is needed; but some other council members, including Russia, disagree.
Central to the dispute is Lebanon’s relationship with neighboring Syria, which some Lebanese officials blame for the killing of Rafik al-Hariri, a close ally of Damascus turned foe.
Most opposition leaders are close to Damascus, which denies any role in the bombing.
The world body had hoped Lebanon would agree on a law establishing the court after it asked the council to approve the tribunal and investigate the killing of Hariri and 22 others in a bombing in Beirut on February 14, 2005.
“Setting up the tribunal should take place despite the dead end it reached in Lebanon because the killers of premier Hariri should face justice,” Rice said in remarks dubbed in Arabic.
The tribunal is a key issue of disagreement between the U.S.-backed government of Fouad Siniora and its political opponents. Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri has refused to call a session of the house to ratify the tribunal.
“The democratically elected government of Siniora should be supported. Lebanon and the Lebanese people can count on the United States,” said Rice.
“I would like to say to all in a very direct fashion that the democracy and sovereignty of Lebanon are critical issues for the United State and that we see them as some of our most prominent interests.”
Many opposition politicians question U.S. backing to Lebanon especially after Washington’s support to Israel in its war with Lebanon’s Iran-backed Hezbollah guerrilla group last year.
About 1,200 Lebanese and 158 Israelis were killed in the war in which Israeli air, land and sea bombardment destroyed wide areas of south Lebanon and large sectors of the capital.
Hezbollah rockets also inflicted material damage in several parts of northern Israel.
Opposition politicians had said they would not discuss the tribunal until the government was reconstituted to give them the blocking minority they have so far lacked, he said.
Some Security Council members oppose the use of Chapter 7 to impose a tribunal, a move Hezbollah, also a political party, has said could plunge the country into strife.
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