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Back to archives Back to news
French Version

Berri dialogue pitch makes no headway as next election session draws near

Less than a week ahead of yet another Parliament session to elect a new president scheduled for April 22, Speaker Nabih Berri's proposed national dialogue does not seem to be in the offing, with the fate of next week's prospective vote hanging in the balance.

As Amal Movement MP Ali Hassan Khalil said Wednesday that Berri would continue to pursue the holding of a national dialogue from April 18 to 21, March 14 Forces MP Butros Harb said that the proposed dialogue was unnecessary.

"Dialogue should start after electing a new head of state," Harb said.

Lebanon's Parliament has failed to elect a new president on 17 occasions.

The presidential seat has been vacant since Emile Lahoud left office last November.

Meanwhile, former President Amin Gemayel said after meeting Siniora on Wednesday that the ruling March 14 Forces coalition was politically resisting a foreign attack on Lebanon.

"The situation would have been much easier and more tolerable had our problem been with Lebanese parties that have a view different than ours, but in fact we are standing in the face of foreign parties that want the Lebanese to act against their national interests," Gemayel said.

The Phalange Party chief added that Lebanon was not alone in this battle.

"The majority of Arabs are on our side and so is the international community," he said.

Gemayel also criticized Free Patriotic Movement leader MP Michel Aoun for "using the issue of naturalizing Palestinians in Lebanon to cover up for the real problem in the country."

"Everybody knows we have made a lot sacrifices to prevent the naturalizing of Palestinians in Lebanon, but this issue is irrelevant right now," he said.

"It is only being used to distract the public from the main threat that the country is facing, and that is the opposition's coup against state institutions and the Constitution," he added.

Also Wednesday, US Charge d'Affaires Michele Sison dismissed earlier media reports indicating that US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice had said the United States was in favor of maintaining the current status quo in Lebanon.

Local newspaper As-Safir reported earlier this week that Rice had said she was in favor of maintaining Prime Minister Fouad Siniora's government and extending the mandate of the current Parliament.

In an interview with another local daily, An-Nahar, Sison expressed continuous US support for the Siniora government, arguing that it was illogical to hold Washington responsible for the prevailing presidential vacuum in the country.

Sison described the allegations that Washington was obstructing the election of a new head of state in Lebanon and prolonging the country's crisis as "total nonsense."

She stressed that Lebanon remains a primary concern for the United States, denying claims that Washington is more set on maintaining Siniora's government than supporting the election of a new president.

"As long as the presidency is vacant, the United States backs the current government as well as other constitutional and security institutions in Lebanon," Sison said.

"Washington is keen on the election of new president without delay," the diplomat added, adding that she hoped a new head of state would be elected on April 22.

"Senior US officials have called on rival Lebanese parties to end the presidential vacuum. We believe Lebanon's independence is in jeopardy due to the ongoing political stalemate," Sison said, blaming the Hizbullah-led opposition for the prevalent situation in Lebanon.

Sison stressed that "Washington supports a Lebanese solution but cannot decide on behalf of Lebanese parties the measures they ought to take to end the deadlock."

She criticized some parties for linking the Lebanese crisis to the upcoming presidential elections in the United States, stressing that both US Democrats and Republicans had a common view on Lebanon.

Also on Wednesday, Hizbullah's Loyalty to the Resistance parliamentary bloc lashed at the United States, accusing it of obstructing all efforts that aim at reaching a settlement to the ongoing crisis.

The bloc voiced its commitment to the implementation of the three-point Arab initiative and said the ruling majority's unwillingness to treat the initiative as one package was the main obstacle to the success of the Arab plan.

The initiative calls for the election of the commander of Lebanese Armed Forces, General Michel Suleiman, as president, the formation of a national unity government, and the drafting of a new electoral law for the 2009 parliamentary polls.

The opposition insists on treating the initiative as one package by agreeing on its different items simultaneously, but the ruling coalition argues that implementing the initiative should start by electing a president, after which other issues can be discussed.

The Hizbullah bloc also accused the government of antagonizing Syria upon the request of the US administration.

Meanwhile, Arab League chief Amr Moussa denied the failure of the Arab initiative to end the crisis in Lebanon.

"The initiative of the Arab League has not failed yet, but we should bear in mind that the problem in Lebanon has more than one dimension," Moussa told Italian news agency AKI.

"There are Arab, regional, and international dimensions that add to the complexity of the crisis in Lebanon," he added.

Beirut 17-04-2008
The Daily Star

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