Presidential vote on back burner until early next year
Antoine Ghattas Saab/The Daily Star/Nov. 17, 2014
Despite repeated calls by international powers on rival Lebanese factions to elect a new president soon, coupled with Speaker Nabih Berri’s internal moves to break the 5-month-old deadlock, political sources ruled out any breakthrough on a new president before early next year.
Information cited by Western diplomatic sources, however, points to a breakthrough in the presidential crisis on the horizon.
A Western diplomat said the continued linkage of the Lebanese presidential issue to regional developments would definitely lead to losses by political parties that are obstructing the election of a successor to former President Michel Sleiman, whose six-year term ended on May 25.
“If the Lebanese ship sinks, all its passengers will drown. Therefore, the Lebanese must search for all means and ways to rescue their country from sinking in the sea of rough regional events,” the diplomat said.
According to the diplomat, a long-awaited dialogue between the Future Movement and Hezbollah would kick off sooner or later, but it would not be quick because its agenda has not yet been prepared.
Last week’s visit by former Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, the head of the parliamentary Future bloc, and Nader Hariri, chief of staff of former Prime Minister Saad Hariri, to Berri signaled that the Future-Hezbollah dialogue would be launched soon.
Sources at Berri’s residence in Ain al-Tineh insisted that the speaker’s positive signals on the presidential deadlock were based on ongoing regional activity.
The U.S.-Iranian nuclear negotiations are making progress, albeit at a slow pace, and the continued talks, even without achieving results, confirm the positive atmosphere between the two sides, the sources said.
They added that there would be no backward movement considering U.S. President Barack Obama’s determination to achieve a victory, even a moral one, from the negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program.
For its part, Iran is hoping for the best from its talks with the Americans and Europeans, aspiring to reach an agreement that would eventually lift international economic sanctions on it, the sources said.
Also, at the regional level, the sources noted positive developments with regard to the nearly 4-year-old civil war in Syria.
The sources cited a proposal by U.N. peace envoy to Syria Staffan de Mistura to freeze fighting in some Syrian areas and the entry of Russia and Egypt into the Syrian crisis in an attempt to bring the warring factions together at the negotiating table, a move that could be similar to Geneva-III peace conference.
Syrian President Bashar Assad said last week that he was ready to study se Mistura’s “action plan” that proposed to “freeze” fighting in local Syrian areas to allow for aid deliveries and to lay the groundwork for peace talks.
In addition to the Syrian crisis and the Iranian nuclear dispute, a breakthrough has begun to emerge in the situation in Yemen amid signs of a joint American-Saudi-Iranian will to restore political life to the war-ravaged country, the sources said.
However, despite all these positive signals, political sources said that behind Berri’s optimism about breaking the presidential deadlock was an attempt to cover up the recent extension of Parliament’s mandate for two years and seven months.
Moreover, the sources suggested that perhaps the speaker wanted to cover up the institutional disintegration that began with the vacancy in the presidency, and the government, which stands at the edge of the abyss after Prime Minister Tammam Salam declared that his Cabinet was working at half steam, in addition to paralysis in public departments.
According to the sources, nothing new has happened in the presidential issue, which will remain on the back burner at least until the beginning of next year, when the U.S.-led international coalition to fight ISIS has reviewed the outcome of its airstrikes against the militant group in Syria and Iraq.
This requires an agreement with Iran following statements by U.S. officials stressing the need to include Tehran in the war against terrorism provided that it improves its relations with regional states, the sources said.
Hopes are also pinned on the anticipated dialogue between the Future Movement and Hezbollah to defuse sectarian tensions and speed up the election of a president.
Senior sources in the Future Movement told The Daily Star that any bilateral, tripartite or collective dialogue between the two sides should be held under the president’s sponsorship.
Given the conflicting attitudes between the Future Movement and Hezbollah following the latter’s military intervention in Syria and the continued dispute over the party’s arsenal, any dialogue must begin with an agreement among the various Lebanese parties on the presidential election because this matter alone can defuse political tensions in the street, the sources said.
The sources called for a productive dialogue with Hezbollah, recalling the “conflict management” that was reached with the party with the formation of Salam’s government.
“Our concerns are currently confined to hamburger, garbage collection and mobile phones, while the fate of the Taif agreement, the security of the border with Syria, the illegitimate arms and the presidential vacuum which threatens Lebanon’s National Pact are issues not being discussed because raising them would lead to the breakup of the government and the country,” the sources said.
They called for the swift election of a consensus president who would give priority to the implementation of U.N. resolutions on Lebanon and maintain the country’s relations with brotherly Arab and Western states.