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French Version

Berri, Hariri lead new push toward consensus

French charges d'affaires says statements from both sides are 'in the right direction'

Speaker Nabih Berri and parliamentary majority leader MP Saad Hariri met for a third time early Wednesday morning over suhur to continue a discussion started Tuesday morning in Parliament over ways to elect a president within the constitutional timeframe. Liberation and Development MP Ali Hassan Khalil, said that if consensus is reached quickly, nothing prevents Berri from convening an electoral session before October 23. The speaker has already called MPs to attend a session of Parliament on October 16 to elect members of parliamentary committees.

"Berri will continue his initiative in order to reach a solution before the October 23 session," Khalil said, adding that Berri's meeting with Hariri was to narrow the gap over names for presidential candidates but refusing to delve into specifics.

Khalil said Berri's meeting is the first of many with Hariri and other factions to arrive at a consensus. "Berri started his consultations by meeting MP Hariri, who is delegated by the majority to speak on their behalf," he said. "This does not mean that Berri will not be in contact with the heads of other parliamentary blocs at the soonest."

Khalil said Berri will not halt his efforts to reach a solution to the impasse in light of negative comments: "On the contrary it will increase his persistence to reach a solution that all the Lebanese desire."

Berri also met Wednesday, at Ain al-Tineh, with UN Special Coordinator for Lebanon Geir Pedersen and discussed efforts to get Lebanon out of its current crisis. Berri also met former Minister Jean Obeid.

Hariri later met Prime Minister Fouad Siniora at the Grand Serail to keep him abreast of his talks with Berri.

Hariri also received British Ambassador to Lebanon Francis Mary Guy in Koreitem.

March 14 presidential candidate MP Boutros Harb met Hariri Wednesday and discussed the latest developments.

"There are many consultations that will happen between Speaker Berri and political factions ... we hope these consultations happen quickly and are successful," Harb said afterward, adding that he feels there is an opportunity for accord.

"Our intentions are pure and our hands are extended," the deputy said. "We want to preserve Lebanese unity and to rebuild the Lebanese democratic state - all that helps toward that end we support."

Change and Reform Bloc leader MP Michel Aoun, addressing party members Wednesday, said that Lebanon has been in a chaotic state both constitutionally and security-wise for the past two years. He said that some factions continue to push Lebanon toward further deterioration.

"I have put forward an initiative, if there were true intentions to rescue the country, I invited everyone, especially the heads of parliamentary blocs, to talk with each other," Aoun said. "I suggested each participant in dialogue discuss their fears and have others allay those fears. We can reach a result to save Lebanon, we must not allow the country to deteriorate further."

"We want to prevent a clash, we want to open the door to understanding," Aoun said, adding that there is a responsibility on the government's shoulders on the security front and asking how the security ap-paratus has failed to make headway on the assassinations of the last two years.

Hizbullah's deputy secretary general, Sheikh Naim Qassem, speaking during an iftar banquet, said presidential elections are a delicate matter that must proceed within the constitutional timeframe.

"We are committed to holding elections on time and in accordance with a two-thirds quorum as the Constitution stipulates," Qassem said.

He said the electoral session did not convene because two-thirds of MPs did not attend, adding that the October 23 session will only be legal if two-thirds MPs attend.

"We gave our answer as an opposition and agreed to Speaker Berri's initiative, what is required is for you to give your answer," Qassem said, addressing the majority, "the answer comes in taking tangible steps and we are ready to join with you for partnership, consensus and unity."

French Charges d'Affaires in Lebanon Andre Baran met Wednesday with Aoun.

"The assassination of MP Antoine Ghanem showed that there are people who want to hamper presidential elections at all costs and plunge Lebanon into chaos," Baran said afterward, "The only response ... would be to proceed with dialogue and continue the search for a solution based on an understanding among all the Lebanese."

Baran noted the resumption of contact between representatives of the majority and the opposition, adding that statements coming out both camps are "in the right direction." He urged all parties to intensify efforts to elect a president within the constitutional time frame.

Maronite Patriarch Nasrallah Boutros Sfeir discussed with his visitors at Bkirki Wednesday the parliamentary electoral session, its impact and the contacts between the various political factions. Sfeir also met Change and Reform Bloc MP Ibrahim Kanaan, who represented Aoun.

Presidential candidate Nassib Lahoud said that the natural outcome in Lebanon is the election of a president from the majority camp who will work with the new prime minister to appoint a national unity Cabinet "in which the opposition may have a third plus one of Cabinet posts."

In an interview with the press on Wednesday, Lahoud said that issuing an international resolution concerning the presidential election is not being considered, nor is the election of a president without consensus, under international auspices and without internal accord.

"Nothing bars dialogue with Hizbullah over pending issues, especially since it had a big role in liberating the South from Israeli occupation and we have to benefit from Hizbullah's capabilities," Lahoud said.

Lahoud said a state of enmity with Syria is not inevitable.

"Once all contentious issues are resolved, relations between both our countries will normalize, provided Syria recognizes that Lebanon is a sovereign and free country," he said.

Beirut 26-09-2007
The Daily Star

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