Dr. Geagea visits Saudi Arabia for talks on presidential void

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Dr. Geagea visits Saudi Arabia for talks on presidential void
Dec. 15, 2014
Hussein Dakroub| The Daily Star

BEIRUT: Lebanese Forces chief Samir Geagea traveled to Saudi Arabia Sunday on an official visit for talks with senior Saudi officials likely to center on the 6-month-old presidential stalemate.

During his visit, he is also expected to meet former premier Saad Hariri to discuss how to end the void in the country’s top Christian post, an LF source told The Daily Star.

Hariri has called for the election of a consensus president as the only way to break the deadlock.

This is Geagea’s second visit this year to Saudi Arabia, which wields great influence in Lebanon with its support for the Future Movement-led March 14 coalition.

The visit comes as efforts have been stepped up to arrange a meeting between Geagea, the March 14-backed presidential candidate, and his arch political foe, Free Patriotic Movement leader MP Michel Aoun, who is backed by the Hezbollah-led March 8 coalition for the presidency.

Geagea’s trip also coincided with intensified attempts to launch a dialogue between the Future Movement and Hezbollah with the aim of facilitating the election of a president and defusing sectarian tensions stoked by the war in Syria.

Speaker Nabih Berri said the finalization of the dialogue agenda would lead to holding the first session between officials from the Future Movement and Hezbollah before the end of the year after the return of Nader Hariri, chief of Hariri’s staff, from the United States.

Berri, according to visitors, said he would open the oil and gas file with all its details early next year in light of credible information that Israel has begun stealing gas reserves from Lebanon’s Exclusive Economic Zone from a marine area it had seized as a result of its agreement with Cyprus.

In preparation, Berri is to meet Monday with the parliamentary Energy Committee in the presence of the Petroleum Administration, experts and technicians to gather all information related to the file. He will also meet with the UNIFIL commander in the south for this purpose. He was quoted as saying the dispute over the licensing for offshore gas exploration in five Lebanese blocks has been resolved. “The licensing should cover the five blocks.” Meanwhile, Maronite Patriarch Beshara Rai urged the four rival Maronite leaders – Aoun, Geagea, Kataeb Party leader Amine Gemayel and Marada Movement chief MP Sleiman Frangieh – to make sacrifices to facilitate the election of a successor to former President Michel Sleiman.

“Patriarch Rai is fully convinced that the four Maronite leaders should make sacrifices in order to ensure the election of a consensus president,” a senior source close to Bkirki told The Daily Star Sunday night.

This was viewed as an implicit call by the patriarch on the four leaders to withdraw from the presidency race in favor of a compromise candidate.

The source said Rai, who has harshly criticized parliamentarians for failing to elect a president in the past six months, did not support a presidential candidate from either the March 8 or March 14 camp. “The patriarch is seeing that the entire region is on the boil, while the [Syrian] fire is spreading to Lebanon. Therefore, the election of a president is urgently needed to prevent the regional conflagration from engulfing Lebanon,” the source said.

Referring to long-simmering political divisions within the Christian community in general, and the Maronite sect in particular, he said: “The patriarch is continuing his efforts to arrive at the election of a president. For this purpose, he is working to close Maronite ranks with a view to reaching comprehensive national unity through the election of a president.”

MPs from the LF and FPM said efforts were underway to bring Geagea and Aoun together soon. “There is nonstop communication between the FPM and LF which might lead to a dialogue and most probably it will lead to that,” MP Ibrahim Kanaan from Aoun’s bloc told LBCI TV. “We will discuss the presidential election.”

LF MP Antoine Zahra said a meeting between Geagea and Aoun might take place at any moment. “We refuse a dialogue between the Lebanese Forces and the Free Patriotic Movement for the sake of wasting time and taking pictures,” he told the Voice of Lebanon radio station.