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French Version

Moussa to pitch Arab League plan in Beirut

Arab League Secretary General Amr Moussa will arrive in Beirut on Wednesday to try to push Lebanon's rival political leaders to accept the Arab foreign ministers' plan aimed at ending the country's constitutional crisis, electing a president and forming a new government.

Parliamentary majority leader MP Saad Hariri met Tuesday with French President Nicolas Sarkozy over lunch in a Paris hotel, during which Sarkozy reaffirmed France's commitment to stand by Lebanon in support of the Arab plan.

Hariri, speaking to the Lebanese Broadcasting Corporation (LBC) Tuesday, said if Syria does not move ahead with the Arab plan, which its Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem accepted, "it would have affirmed that its candidate for president in Lebanon is a vacancy in the presidency." Hariri rejected the idea of equal shares of Cabinet posts going to the his coalition, the opposition and the new president, a 10+10+10 distribution of Cabinet posts, calling it "unrealistic."

The Arab foreign ministers' three-point plan paves the way for the election of Lebanese Armed Forces commander General Michel Suleiman as president, the establishment of a national unity government and the passing of a new electoral law.

Maronite Patriarch Nasrallah Butros Sfeir stressed the need to elect a president before forming a national unity government, as the president plays a pivotal role in Cabinet appointments. Speaking to reporters after meeting visitors in Bkirki Tuesday, Sfeir said the Arab League plan was "new and aimed at creating a balance" between political rivals and to have a government and a president in Lebanon.

"No sooner had the plan emerged than reservations were raised by some, while most people accepted it," Sfeir said, asking what would become of those who object to this plan. Change and Reform bloc leader MP Michel Aoun said Monday he is waiting for Moussa to provide some clarifications before he announces his position on the Arab plan.

"We are exhausted of the situation that we have been in for over a year. Lebanon must return to normal, there must be a system of government and there must be a president. No other country has known as much turbulence as Lebanon is going through now, not even Lebanon not since 1920," Sfeir said.

The patriarch said there are those who want a government before electing a president, wondering what the president's role would be after all Cabinet posts and top government jobs have been decided on. "A president has an opinion on all these matters and has a voice in [parliamentary] consultations which are binding and take place before he can form a government, following which an army commander is appointed in agreement with the president," Sfeir said.

"The president is obliged to hold [parliamentary] consultation, its in the Constitution, which should be applied," the patriarch added.

Speaker Nabih Berri met Tuesday with French Charges d'Affaires Andrea Parant in Ain al-Tineh. Following the meeting Parant told reporters that he conveyed to the speaker France's "unreserved support" for the Arab initiative, adding that the plan is both "balanced and realistic."

"We call upon all Lebanese, both in the majority and the opposition, to take this opportunity to solve the political crisis and allow the election of a president as soon as possible," Parant said. Berri then met Saudi Ambassador Abdel-Aziz Khoja and discussed with him the results of the Arab foreign ministers' meeting in Cairo as well as other developments.

Acting Foreign Minister Tarek Mitri, speaking to Russian television Tuesday, said Arab foreign ministers meeting in Cairo never considered themselves to have taken the place of the Lebanese themselves and they never discussed the details of any new Lebanese government.

"All the Arab plan aims to ensure is for the Lebanese to agree among themselves on the principle of establishing a national unity government in accordance with the Constitution and accepted norms and preserving the president's role in parliamentary consultations and cabinet appointments," Mitri said.

Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea said Tuesday the latest Arab initiative is "balanced, clear, simple, practical and direct," adding that there was no longer any reason for MPs to go to Parliament Saturday and elect a president. He said that MPs are not bound by the Saturday session but can meet at any time as Parliament is in continuous session until a president is elected.

Democratic Gathering MP Wael Bou Faour said the Arab plan was an opportunity for all political forces in Lebanon to find a just and fair political consensus. "The priority is to elect a president as quickly as possible," he added.

Hizbullah MP Mohammad Haidar said his party was awaiting Moussa's arrival to guarantee that there would be "no winner and no loser" as part of the Arab settlement plan. "We want to make sure that under the proposed formula, no party will be able to impose its decisions in the next government," Haidar said. "If this is the case, then we can have an elected president on Saturday," he added.

Development and Liberation Bloc MP Ali Bazzi said partnership in a new government is the path to genuine national accord. Speaking at a memorial ceremony in South Lebanon Tuesday, Bazzi welcomed the Arab initiative. "We are respective to this initiative, especially since we in [Berri's] Amal Movement were the first to open the door to dialogue and believed in consensus and worked toward it," Bazzi said.

Internationally, Pope Benedict XVI has expressed hope that the Lebanese will be able to make decisions freely. "It is my earnest wish that the Lebanese people will be able to decide freely on their future," the pope said in his annual speech to Vatican diplomats Monday. He made reference to "the plight of Lebanon, amid its trials and all the violence that continues to shake that beloved country."

UN chief Ban Ki-moon implored Lebanese leaders Monday to transcend their sectarian interests and end the impasse over the planned election of a new president. He welcomed the efforts of the Arab League to help break the stalemate and urged Lebanon's neighbors, particularly Syria, to help the Lebanese overcome this crisis without outside interference.

"I am deeply disappointed by the current situation in which the Lebanese people have not been able to elect their own president for such a long time," Ban said in his first press conference of the year. "Failure to reach an early agreement would represent a betrayal of the expectations of both the Lebanese people and the international community," Ban warned. EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana gave his "strong support" Monday to "the three-stage plan on Lebanon unanimously adopted by the Arab League foreign ministers on January 6," said Solana's spokeswoman, Cristina Gallach.

Beirut 09-01-2008
The Daily Star

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