BEIRUT: A senior U.S. official Tuesday underlined the need for the presidential election to be held on time without any foreign intervention.
U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Larry Silverman spoke during a hearing in Washington held by the Congress’ Foreign Affairs Committee about Lebanon entitled: “Lebanon: Security challenges and U.S. interests.”
Silverman said Lebanon was faced with three key challenges and had dealt with two of them: The Cabinet formation and the issuance of the policy statement.
“The Lebanese people expect the political leadership to overcome the third obstacle and elect a president,” he said.
He welcomed the formation of a new Cabinet by Prime Minister Tammam Salam, after a year under a caretaker government that did not have the authority to address a multitude of problems.
Referring to the upcoming presidential election, Silverman said Washington had made clear to everyone the importance of holding the presidential election on time in “a free and honest manner in conformity with the Constitution without any foreign intervention.”
He hoped in this respect that consensus over the Cabinet formation would be applied to the presidential election to ensure “consensus to prevent a vacuum and elect a president.”
The presidential race has gained momentum after Lebanon last month entered the two-month constitutional period for Parliament to meet to elect a new head of state.
So far, Lebanese Forces chief Samir Geagea is the only Maronite leader who has announced he would run for the presidency, unleashing what promises to be a fiercely contested presidential battle between the rival March 8 and March 14 parties. President Michel Sleiman’s six-year-term in office expires on May 25.
Silverman warned that failure to transfer power to a new president would end the Cabinet’s momentum.
“Lebanon needs a responsible leadership to address its international obligations,” he said.
Silverman praised the role of the Lebanese Army and Internal Security Forces, particularly the recent security efforts in the northern city of Tripoli and the Bekaa Valley.
He said Washington would seek to increase its military aid to modernize the Lebanese Army’s capabilities, namely training and equipment to protect Lebanon’s border with Syria.
Silverman reiterated U.S. criticism of Hezbollah’s military involvement in the 3-year-old war in Syria.
Hezbollah has dragged Lebanon into a war defending and strengthening the Assad regime, he said. He added that Hezbollah’s continued involvement in Syria would bring “further fighting, terrorism and instability to Lebanon.”
Meanwhile, Geagea met a special envoy from former Prime Minister Saad Hariri with whom he discussed the presidential election.
Geagea’s lengthy meeting with former MP Ghattas Khoury in Maarab Monday night discussed all aspects of the presidential election and stressed the need for the March 14 parties to maintain their unity in this stage in order to ensure the election of their unified candidate to the presidency, according to a statement released by Geagea’s office Tuesday.
Geagea reiterated that the worsening political and security situation in Lebanon prompted him to announce his candidacy.
“I am a candidate to the presidency. ... I have never sought a post. But the stalemated political, security and economic situation we have witnessed over the past 10 months prompted me to announce my candidacy in an attempt to take the country to a new era of governance dominated by peace, stability and prosperity,” Geagea told a delegation of the Journalists’ Union in Maarab.
He ruled out the possibility of the four top Maronite leaders – Geagea, Free Patriotic Movement leader Michel Aoun, former President Amine Gemayel and Zghorta MP Sleiman Frangieh, leader of the Marada Movement – reaching agreement on a unified candidate to the presidency.
“I am currently a candidate of the Lebanese Forces Party. I aspire in the next days to be a candidate of the March 14 parties and in the next weeks to be a candidate of all the Lebanese,” Geagea said.