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French Version

Welch urges Lebanese MPs to select independent president

Visiting US Assistant Secretary of State for Near East Affairs David Welch said Wednesday that Lebanon's next president "should not be beholden to outside parties."

Welch repeatedly insisted the US has "no opinion to express on who should be president," and the matter is for Parliament to decide, adding that the Lebanese also expect their representatives to do their duty.

While Welch said his government does not expect the next Lebanese president to "agree with the United States all the time," the US does expect the leader will not acquiesce to any external party.

"The Lebanese people have a unique opportunity now to take their future in their hands by electing a new president on time and in accordance with the Constitution," he said during a news conference at the Grand Serail after a 90-minute meeting with Prime Minister Fouad Siniora.

On the last day of his two-day visit, the US envoy held a string of meetings with Lebanese officials Wednesday, including Speaker Nabih Berri, former President Amin Gemayel and Army commander General Michel Suleiman. He also met Change and Reform Bloc leader MP Michel Aoun and Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea.

"For the members of Lebanon's democratically elected Parliament, casting a vote for president, freely and without coercion, would be a significant milestone toward the Lebanese people's goal of sovereignty and independence," Welch said.

He said his exchange of ideas with Siniora was "useful and productive" and focused on ways the US could continue to assist the Lebanese in achieving their goals of "a secure, democratic, prosperous and united Lebanon."

After his meeting with Gemayel, Welch told reporters he assured the former president that the US will work toward a binding resolution along with other UN Security Council members to establish the international tribunal to try suspects in the slaying of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.

Welch said that after UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon reported to the Security Council on the impossibility of approving the tribunal in the Lebanese Parliament, the US will take up the matter so justice is achieved for all families - such as the Gemayel clan - who have suffered during the string of assassinations.

Gemayel told reporters that Welch's visit was support for Lebanon's regaining complete sovereignty. He said the meeting emphasized "that elections should be held on time to be the crucial juncture for Lebanon's future, because the country will be facing major developments in the coming months."

Following his hour-long meeting with Berri in Ain al-Tineh, Welch left without giving a statement to the press. Berri said he explained to Welch his position on the tribunal and his efforts to establish it within the framework of Lebanese constitutional institutions and via national consensus.

"All these initiatives were rejected by the parliamentary majority ... I have said it before and I say it again: The problem is not with the tribunal but with [the lack of] a national unity government," Berri said.

Concerning the presidency, he stressed that "the Constitution, the accepted norms and the interest of Lebanon require consensus, based on the premise that a quorum of two-thirds is required for any electoral [parliamentary] session."

The Loyalty to the Resistance Bloc released a statement denouncing Welch's visit as "blatant interference in Lebanese af-fairs." It described the US envoy's positions as "provocative and destructive," adding that he is attempting to "resurrect a paralyzed and ineffectual authority that is unable to run the country."

The statement added that the visit has only complicated the situation and increased tensions, describing the "ruling faction's" invitation of the "international mandate" powers into Lebanon as a crime against the country and its people.

The statement said electing a president without two-thirds of MPs in attendance would be a dangerous precedent that could threaten the consociational system in Lebanon.

In an interview with the Associated Press, Welch said the US will not use Lebanon as a bargaining tool: "The future of Lebanon is not something that is negotiable against other interests the United States may have in the area." He dismissed fears that creating the tribunal without Parliament's ratification could lead to violence.

After meeting parliamentary majority leader MP Saad Hariri on Tuesday, Welch described the talks as a useful exchange of ideas. Welch also assured Hariri of strong US support to assist the Lebanese in uncovering the truth behind Hariri's father's assassination.

Welch said the US will work to establish the tribunal in order "to put an end to the sad string of attacks, assassinations and attempted assassinations that the Lebanese people have suffered over the years."

Beirut 18-05-2007
The Daily Star

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