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All eyes on Hariri contacts in Beirut

Former Prime Minister Saad Hariri gestures upon his arrival at the Grand Serail in Beirut, Friday, Aug 8, 2014. (The Daily Star/Dalati Nohra, HO)

Although the return of former Prime Minister Saad Hariri is expected to instigate negotiations aimed at resolving the presidential vacuum, eyes are focused on the nature of the meetings Hariri will hold with political factions.

Hariri, who returned Friday after three years of self-imposed exile, is expected to oversee the spending of a $1 billion grant from Saudi Arabia aimed at deterring terrorism in Lebanon.

Hariri met with Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri Sunday night in a private meeting at the latter’s residence in Ain al-Tineh, with a media blackout in effect. During the meeting, Hariri and Berri tackled numerous crucial files, explained an informed source.

According to some acquired information, various political, security and economic developments were raised during the meeting, pointing to Hariri’s concern with the overall regional and domestic situation.

The meeting also focused on the importance of strengthening internal communication among political factions in order to end the vacuum in the presidential post, which has been ongoing for two months.

It has been said that Berri was very vocal about the negative implications of the vacuum, especially for public institutions.

Parliament Tuesday has failed once again to convene for a session to elect a president.

For his part, Hariri said that electing a president was essential in finding solutions to the various problems facing Lebanon. During the meeting, sources said, he emphasized again the fact that he doesn’t have a veto on any candidate. Hariri believes that Maronite factions, who are expected to coordinate with Bkirki, the seat of the Maronite Church, are responsible for choosing a president.

According to some observers, Hariri’s meeting with Berri was an alternative to meeting with Hezbollah Secretary-General Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah.

The Daily Star was informed that a meeting is expected to take place between Hariri and Free Patriotic Movement leader Michel Aoun.

However, this meeting hinges on contacts being made by MP Walid Jumblatt, head of the Progressive Socialist Party, concerning the presidency.

Jumblatt was said to have been increasing talks with Aoun, whom Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea believes is disrupting the presidential elections.

The date of meeting between the two leaders has yet to be set, especially as Aoun remains a strong believer in his right to become Lebanon’s next president.

Sources close to Aoun explain that he believes his chances of becoming a president have increased amid the latest incidents in the region, especially the persecution of Christians in Iraq.

Aoun, who explained on numerous occasions that he would not repeat the mistake of 2008, when he opted to support then-candidate Michel Sleiman’s candidacy, believes that Lebanese Christians are now in dire need of a strong president to represent and support them.

As eyes remain fixed on Hariri, the source said that another meeting is expected to be held between the latter and Maronite Patriarch Beshara Rai.

Separately, a political source explained that the time to elect a president has yet to come and there are many factors explaining why this is so.

Mainly, stagnation in American-Iranian negotiations regarding Iran’s nuclear file, which are not expected to happen before two months and are affecting Saudi-Iranian and Saudi-Syrian talks.

Additionally, Syria and Iran’s allies in Lebanon have the power to disrupt elections, knowing that Syria wants to have a hand in choosing Lebanon’s next president. Meanwhile, Lebanese political factions have submitted themselves to this political equation and are waiting for major powers to agree.

The political source also explained that Hariri’s return might play a role in disrupting the presidential election if it becomes clear that the former premier’s return is not solely to oversee the spending of the Saudi grant and support Sunni moderation.

Additionally, as a meeting between Hariri and Nasrallah remains unlikely, this reflects the lack of internal consensus between various political factions.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on August 13, 2014, on page 3.

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Summary

Although the return of former Prime Minister Saad Hariri is expected to instigate negotiations aimed at resolving the presidential vacuum, eyes are focused on the nature of the meetings Hariri will hold with political factions.

During the meeting, Hariri and Berri tackled numerous crucial files, explained an informed source.

The meeting also focused on the importance of strengthening internal communication among political factions in order to end the vacuum in the presidential post, which has been ongoing for two months.

According to some observers, Hariri's meeting with Berri was an alternative to meeting with Hezbollah Secretary-General Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah.

The Daily Star was informed that a meeting is expected to take place between Hariri and Free Patriotic Movement leader Michel Aoun.


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