Positive developments in Baghdad could have a ripple effect in Lebanon, where the presidential vacuum continues to worry political leaders. Iraq’s Interim Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has signaled his willingness to step down and allow a consensus Shiite figure to be elected in his place. Currently consultations are underway to determine the identity of this person and the makeup of the government.
Tension between Maliki and the president of Iraqi Kurdistan, Massoud Barzani, has cooled following talks between the two.
According to high-placed political sources, this breakthrough indicates the possible revival of Saudi-Iranian talks. Moreover, former Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s surprise return to Lebanon Friday raised a lot of questions from those wondering if this signaled a fresh push toward a comprehensive political settlement following this week’s deadly clashes in Arsal between the Lebanese Army and Islamist militants.
Hariri’s return at this time has raised hopes that the outpouring of support and unity for the Army during the battle of Arsal could be common ground for launching a more general internal Lebanese accord to revive the constitutional institutions and resolve the presidential crisis.
The sources emphasized that what happened in Arsal is related to what is going on in Syria, Iraq and Gaza, as well as major international and regional compromises, especially over Iran’s nuclear program.
In this context, it appears that MP Walid Jumblatt, after receiving international signals, has turned his efforts toward mobilizing support for holding presidential polls.
Jumblatt was quoted by visitors as saying that the fragile situation in Lebanon “cannot handle any more recklessness.”
“A solution must be found quickly to distance the country from the fire of strife threatening to consume it,” he reportedly said. He added that Sunni-Shiite dialogue, especially between the Future Movement and Hezbollah, is mandatory for any solution, “especially in the absence of an external decision on the presidency.”
The visitors revealed that during his meeting with Hezbollah Secretary-General Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah, Jumblatt sensed the party was eager to speed up the pace of the presidential election, but not willing to spearhead its own initiative to find a solution. Rather, it will push to put an end to the vacuum through a number of political channels. The party will not, however, ask ally MP Michel Aoun to withdraw from the presidential race as long as the regional atmosphere is not conducive to a settlement.
At this week’s meeting between Jumblatt and Aoun, the Progressive Socialist Party leader tried to get Aoun to put forth his own proposals for resolving the presidential crisis, stressing that the political parties were ready to move toward any option agreed upon by the Christians, because the election of the president ensures cover for the military and security forces.
If a vacuum is to be ended, a new president must be elected before Sept. 20, the deadline for candidates in parliamentary elections to withdraw their candidacies, so that Parliament’s mandate can be extended again amid inappropriate conditions to hold the polls.