Will Aoun accept consensus president to help break deadlock?


Will Aoun accept consensus president to help break deadlock?
Antoine Ghattas Saab/The Daily Star
Nov. 24, 2014

Will Free Patriotic Movement leader MP Michel Aoun back off from his adamant stance on the presidential crisis and accept the election of a consensus candidate in a bid to end the political impasse that has left Lebanon without a president for six months?

Diplomatic sources expressed the belief that the internal Lebanese situation, particularly within the Christian community, and the international situation would probably push Aoun to accept a consensus president in whose election he plays a major role and to be content with being the top Christian leader in Lebanon instead of vying for the country’s top Christian post.

Aoun, according to the sources, would adopt a policy to retreat step by step from his unyielding stance so that the expected compromise over the presidential election would not come at his expense.

Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah’s public nomination of Aoun as the March 8 alliance’s candidate for the presidency earlier this month, coupled with the Shiite party’s support for the extension of Parliament’s mandate, which ran contrary to the will of its key Christian ally, enhanced the belief that the FPM leader’s chances of being elected president have largely been weakened, the sources said.

Aoun, the head of the largest Christian bloc in Parliament, has vowed not to withdraw from the presidential race. Last week, he offered to face off with his Christian rival, Lebanese Forces chief Samir Geagea, in a presidential vote in Parliament if the battle was confined to both of them.

Hezbollah does not want to lose Christian cover, which it badly needs today in view of its military involvement in the Syrian war, the sources said.

But at the same time, Hezbollah is committed to comply with decisions that might be taken by the Iranian leadership if and when Tehran joins any settlement with the Saudis and Americans over the region and Lebanon, they added.

Should a regional settlement materialize and the name of the next president, which is the result of an internal and external decision, become known, Hezbollah will frankly tell Aoun that it will go along with any agreement that might be reached between Riyadh and Tehran, the sources said.

On this basis, those who meet Aoun these days get the impression that the FPM leader is feeling that the time is drawing close for a regional and international agreement on the need to pull Lebanon out of the 6-month-old presidential vacuum that has paralyzed the government’s capabilities and the state’s work, the sources added.

However, such a regional and international settlement needs some time, especially since Lebanon currently is not on the agenda of influential foreign powers, the sources said.

Therefore, the sources added, the fate of the presidential election should not be linked to the outcome of the ongoing negotiations between Iran and Western powers over Tehran’s nuclear program or to a long-awaited Saudi-Iranian rapprochement.

Among the factors that might accelerate the presidential election, the sources cited the fact that there are 23 Arab and foreign ambassadors in Beirut waiting to present their credentials to the president in order to formally begin their work.

Meanwhile, senior political sources said Speaker Nabih Berri, former Prime Minister Saad Hariri and MP Walid Jumblatt had wanted Maronite Patriarch Beshara Rai to play a role in persuading both Aoun and Geagea to withdraw from the presidential race, but the patriarch had unfortunately failed in this endeavor.

On Berri’s attempts to revive a dialogue between the Future Movement and Hezbollah, sources close to the speaker said serious preparations to bring the two rival parties together have reached an advanced stage after Berri sought to keep his efforts in complete secrecy and after he was assured that the two sides had agreed to preliminary arrangements for talks.

Noting that the first round of dialogue between the Future Movement and Hezbollah could be held at Berri’s residence in Ain al-Tineh, the sources said that Hezbollah’s refusal to respond to the Saudi envoy at the United Nations who called for adding the party to the list of terrorist organizations is one of the positive signals for the launching of dialogue.

Berri is also waiting to hear clarifications on the Saudi envoy’s statement from the Saudi Ambassador to Lebanon Ali Awad Asiri when he meets him Tuesday.

Moreover, Hariri’s meetings with his ministers and Future lawmakers in the past few days have signaled that he is tending toward giving dialogue with Hezbollah a chance. Hariri is expected to talk about this topic, as well as other issues, during an interview with LBCI TV Thursday night.