debkafile Exclusive: Iran and Syria veto all six candidates for Lebanese president to provoke escalation in Beirut and scuttle Washington’s Middle

At a special meeting in Tehran Monday, French special emissary Jean-Claude Cousseran laid the six candidates listed by the Maronite Patriarch of Lebanon before Iranian foreign minister Manuchehr Mottaki and Syrian foreign minister Walid Mualem. He hoped to negotiate an end to the crisis over the Lebanese presidency which falls vacant on Nov. 24. Mualem and Mottaki rejected all six candidates including Michel Khouri. The parliamentary vote scheduled for Nov. 21 had to be postponed.
The latest word reaching debkafile Tuesday night, Nov. 20, is that the Syrian government is on its way to backing out of the Middle East peace conference in Maryland. Our sources report that Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak and a high-ranking Saudi official, possibly foreign minister Saudi al-Faisal, are planning an urgent trip to Damascus Wednesday to save the situation with Assad.
Our military sources report a sharp upsurge of military tensions on the Syrian-Israel and Lebanese-Israeli borders. These sources calculate that if Tehran and Damascus can force Lebanon into a civil war danger zone, they will have no qualms about unleashing surrogate terror against Israel, from the north, the West Bank or Gaza.
On Tuesday, the bid to detach Syria from its strategic pact with Iran, starting with Lebanon, foundered in Tehran.
From Washington and Moscow, debkafile‘s sources report that in a telephone conversation Tuesday, President George W. Bush asked Russian ruler Vladimir Putin to use his influence with Bashar Assad to get him to change his mind. Deputy Russian foreign minister Alexander Sultanov, who is in Damascus, called on the Syrian president and vice president Farouk a-Shara. He told them that Moscow has thrown its support behind the peace parley and asks Damascus to send a delegation.
However, the Syrian leaders refused to commit themselves.
Putin also phoned the Lebanese majority leader Saad Hariri and promised to help Beirut overcome the crisis.
Left high and dry, the US State Department continued to withhold information on the date, agenda and list of attendees and only sent out “save the date” notices to a large number of governments and institutions. Once again, while the Israeli prime minister and Egyptian president faced TV cameras from Sharm el Sheikh Tuesday, the shots in the Middle East were called by Tehran.

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