UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - The U.N. Security Council faced a divisive debate over setting up a court in the murder of Lebanon’s former prime minister after a U.N. envoy reported on Wednesday he had failed to break the deadlock in Beirut.
Major Western powers believe Lebanon’s feuding politicians are unlikely to agree any time soon to formally endorse the tribunal and that U.N. action is needed, but some other council members, including Russia, disagree, diplomats said.
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 Rafik al-Hariri and 22 others in a bombing in Beirut on February 14, 2005.
But the issue is deeply enmeshed with Lebanese politics. Nabih Berri, the opposition speaker of parliament, has refused to call a session of the chamber to ratify the tribunal.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon sent special legal counsel Nicolas Michel to Beirut last month to seek a way out of the impasse, but without success.
“I had to say (to the Security Council) that I had no progress to report on the efforts that I made,” Michel told a news conference after briefing the council on his trip.
Opposition politicians had said they would not discuss the tribunal until Lebanon’s government was reconstituted to give them the blocking minority they have so far lacked, he said.
Central to the dispute is Lebanon’s relationship with neighbouring Syria, which some Lebanese officials blame for the Hariri killing. Most opposition leaders are close to Damascus, which denies any role in the bombing.
“We support the establishment of the tribunal as soon as possible,” U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad, this month’s Security Council president, told reporters. “The council needs to look at options to assist the Lebanese.”
The council “could assist the Lebanese by establishing the tribunal, that the Lebanese have agreed to broadly, under Chapter 7,” he added. Chapter 7 of the U.N. Charter makes a council decision mandatory.
Western diplomats said the United States, France and Britain favoured prompt U.N. action to set up the court. “We think that the time for the Security Council to exercise its responsibilities is approaching,” said Ambassador Jean-Marc de la Sabliere of France, which has close ties with Lebanon.
But diplomats said it was unclear how the process would be started. Ban could prompt a resolution from Beirut’s allies the United States and France, but a fresh approach from Lebanese politicians might be needed first, they said.
Some council members oppose the use of Chapter 7 to impose a tribunal, a move the Lebanese opposition group Hezbollah has said could plunge the country back into strife.
“We feel that there is still time for the parties in Lebanon to come to an agreement on the special tribunal,” Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin told reporters.