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03 December 2023

Arab League chief fails to break Lebanese presidential deadlock

By Agencies

The head of the Arab League has decided to extend his visit to Beirut to continue mediation between feuding Lebanese factions, reversing an earlier decision to leave because he had failed to broker an agreement to elect a new president.


Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa’s change of heart came late on Friday after a second meeting with Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, who is aligned with the country’s opposition, the state-run National News Agency reported.


Earlier on Friday, following two days of talks with leaders from the pro-government and opposition factions, Moussa had said he planned to leave, but would return to hold additional discussions to break the presidential deadlock, which has entered its third month.


The NNA report did not reveal the nature of Moussa’s discussion with Berri, or why the Arab League chief decided to delay his departure.


Lawmakers on both sides have agreed to back Army Commander Gen Michel Suleiman as a compromise candidate for president, but the parliament must first amend the constitution to allow a sitting military chief to be elected.


This process has been complicated by the opposition’s demand for a new unity government that would give it veto power over major decisions. Opposition boycotts have thwarted attempts to choose a president by preventing a two-thirds quorum.


Moussa hosted a meeting on Friday with majority leader Saad Hariri, Christian opposition leader Michel Aoun and former President Amin Gemayel, who is aligned with the anti-Syrian majority bloc. The discussion focused on ways of implementing an Arab plan calling for the election of Suleiman as president, the formation of a national unity government and the adoption of a new election law. The plan was unanimously adopted by Arab foreign ministers in Cairo last month.


Moussa said the two sides still supported Suleiman and showed “a common desire” to reach a solution to the presidential crisis, but he refused to say what issues were holding up an agreement.


“There is a scope for an agreement and there are matters that still need more discussion,” Moussa told reporters at the parliament building in downtown Beirut where the meeting was held. “Therefore, we have agreed that we need another meeting because all matters being discussed are delicate.”


Friday’s meeting was the second in three months between the pro-government and opposition camps.

Moussa, who held talks with feuding factions in Beirut last month, later met with Western-backed Prime Minister Fuad Saniora.


Lebanon has been without a president since pro-Syrian President Emile Lahoud’s term ended November 23, plunging the country into the worst political crisis since the end of the 1975-90 civil war.


The presidential crisis has compounded a yearlong fierce power struggle between Saniora’s Western-backed government and the Syrian-backed opposition led by the militant Hezbollah group.


A 14th attempt by parliament to elect a president on Monday was likely to be postponed again because both sides remained entrenched in their previous positions over shares in the future Cabinet.


Also Friday, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier and his Saudi counterpart, Saud al-Faisal, met in Berlin and called on Syria to help clear the way for the election of a new Lebanese president, the German Foreign Ministry said.


“Both ministers stressed that all parties in Lebanon and the region are urgently called upon to make possible the election of a new president and the formation of a government on the basis of the initiative of the Arab League,” a ministry statement said. They stressed that “Syria must also make a contribution to this now,” it added.


Syria has been accused by the US and the anti-Syrian coalition of blocking the presidential vote. Damascus has denied the charge. (AP)