Tribunal can’t be stopped by Lebanon says Kerry

Lebanon is powerless to stop a UN-backed probe into the murder of ex-premier Rafiq Hariri despite a campaign by Hezbollah to torpedo the court, visiting US Senator John Kerry said on Monday.

“This is a tribunal that was not created by the United States, not created by any individual entity in this region,” said Kerry, chairman of the Senate’s foreign relations committee, after meeting with Lebanese President Michel Sleiman and Prime Minister Saad Hariri, son of the slain ex-premier.

“Prime Minister Hariri doesn’t have the power to change the tribunal,” he added. “Lebanon doesn’t have the power to change the tribunal, because it was created by the United Nations at the request of this country.”

Kerry, who headed to neighbouring Syria after his brief stop in Beirut, said it was not within Hariri’s power to change the course of the international investigation, despite calls by the powerful Shiite militant group Hezbollah for Lebanon to disavow the tribunal.

“It would take the votes of many countries to change what is happening,” said Kerry, whose country last week announced a new 10-million-dollar contribution to the tribunal.

“Those who are trying to make it an issue, those who oppose it, they need to think carefully about rule of law, about the institutions that have put this tribunal together, and what it is trying to accomplish, well outside of your prime minister’s ability to affect,” he said in a clear message to Hezbollah.

Kerry’s visit was the latest in a flurry of diplomatic efforts aimed at containing a growing political crisis in Lebanon over the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL), a UN-backed probe into the 2005 assassination of Hariri and 22 others.

According to unconfirmed reports, the STL is set to implicate high-ranking Hezbollah figures in connection with Hariri’s murder.

The reports have sparked the ire of the Shiite party, which has called for a boycott of the STL and accused the United States of using it as its “last pawn” in Lebanon.

Hassan Nasrallah, the chief of Hezbollah which has two ministers in Lebanon’s unity government, has openly warned all Lebanese against further cooperation with the tribunal.

His second-in-command, Sheikh Naim Qassem, has said charges against Hezbollah would be “equivalent to lighting the fuse, to igniting the wick for an explosion.”

But Saad Hariri has vowed to see the investigation through.