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Kerry in Beirut for talks on presidential void: sources

  • Ministers attend a Cabinet meeting at the Grand Serail in Beirut, Tuesday, June 3, 2014. (The Daily Star/Mohammad Azakir)

BEIRUT: U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is due to arrive in Beirut Wednesday on a short visit expected to focus on the presidential election stalemate and the flow of Syrian refugees into Lebanon, political sources said.

Making his first trip to Lebanon since becoming secretary of state, Kerry will meet separately with Speaker Nabih Berri and Prime Minister Tammam Salam for talks likely to center on the urgent need to choose a successor to former President Michel Sleiman, whose six-year term ended on May 25, the sources said.

When contacted by The Daily Star, the U.S. Embassy could not confirm or deny that Kerry was coming to Beirut.

A few months before Sleiman’s mandate ended, President Barack Obama and other U.S. officials called for the presidential election to be held on time and without foreign interference. They have also reiterated U.S. support for maintaining security and stability in Lebanon.

During a phone conversation with Sleiman last week, Kerry stressed the importance of rapidly electing a new Lebanese president. Kerry’s visit comes as Lebanon faces the threat of a prolonged vacuum in the presidency, an issue that has already paralyzed Parliament legislation and is threatening government work. The Cabinet failed Tuesday for the second time in less than a week to agree on a mechanism to exercise full executive powers, including the president’s prerogatives, during the presidential void.

Lebanon plunged into a presidential crisis last month following Parliament’s failure in five attempts to elect a president over a lack of the required two-thirds quorum (86) of the legislature’s 128 members.

While the Cabinet last week agreed that the prime minister would send the agenda to the ministers 72 hours before scheduled sessions, the ministers remained at odds over whether Cabinet decrees need the signatures of all 24 members, or only two-thirds or half of them.

Ministers from MP Michel Aoun’s bloc demand that the Cabinet decrees be signed by all the ministers, while ministers from the March 14 coalition and the Future Movement insist that the decisions should be passed by a two-thirds vote, a ministerial source said.

However, Salam prefers consensus among the ministers on any Cabinet decisions, the source said.

Discussing the Cabinet role in filling the vacuum, ministers agreed to abide by constitutional texts, Information Minister Ramzi Joreige told reporters after the three-hour Cabinet session chaired by Salam at the Grand Serail.

“The Cabinet affirmed that it would perform its duties according to constitutional provisions in a consensual framework, keeping in mind the current political circumstances and the need to swiftly elect a new president,” he said.

“We have agreed that the Cabinet decisions be taken by consensus or by voting in implementation of the Constitution, while taking into account ... the vacancy in the presidency post and its impact on the political balances in the country,” he added.

During the session, Salam stressed that political disputes between rival factions should not affect the Cabinet’s work and lead to crippling all constitutional institutions, according to Joreige.

“The Cabinet’s main concern is to create the [appropriate] atmosphere to elect a new president,” Salam said.

Most ministers said the problem over exercising the president’s powers was a political one and needed a political solution.

“There are things that are happening outside the Cabinet session and they might be crystallized next week. On this basis, it will be possible to know if this Cabinet will continue its work,” Health Minister Wael Abu Faour told reporters after the session.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on June 04, 2014, on page 1.
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Summary

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is due to arrive in Beirut Wednesday on a short visit expected to focus on the presidential election stalemate and the flow of Syrian refugees into Lebanon, political sources said.

Making his first trip to Lebanon since becoming secretary of state, Kerry will meet separately with Speaker Nabih Berri and Prime Minister Tammam Salam for talks likely to center on the urgent need to choose a successor to former President Michel Sleiman, whose six-year term ended on May 25, the sources said.

However, Salam prefers consensus among the ministers on any Cabinet decisions, the source said.

Discussing the Cabinet role in filling the vacuum, ministers agreed to abide by constitutional texts, Information Minister Ramzi Joreige told reporters after the three-hour Cabinet session chaired by Salam at the Grand Serail.


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