BEIRUT: Paris came under further fire Monday over its alleged proposal to replace the Taif Accord with a tripartite power-sharing agreement that would boost Shiite representation in Parliament, as the U.S. reaffirmed its designation of Hezbollah as a terrorist group despite rumors to the contrary.
The Kataeb Party Monday joined those questioning Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah’s statement late last week that France had told Iran the Taif Accord, which ended the Civil War and gave equal power to Muslims and Christians in Parliament, was obsolete and should be replaced by a Christian-Shiite-Sunni formula. Nasrallah said the Iranians rejected the proposal.
“The party calls on the French government to respond to the latest comments by Hezbollah’s Secretary-General Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah claiming that France is responsible for the three-way power sharing proposal as a political solution for Lebanon,” Kataeb said in a statement following its regular meeting Monday.
“Lebanon has the exclusive right to solve its political and national issues without any external help.”
France’s Ambassador to Lebanon, Patrice Paoli, has been scrambling to explain Nasrallah’s comments since last Friday. Speaking Monday after a meeting with Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil, Paoli stressed that his country backed the various national pacts, including Taif.
“We discussed various issues and I renewed the French government’s support for the Lebanese Constitution and Lebanese institutions,” Paoli added.
However, he remained cagey when asked about the tripartite comments, and fell short of addressing the issue.
“There are some questions about France’s stance and I have clarified matters to Minister Bassil,” he said. “I renewed France’s known stance.”
“This is the message I had carried to Speaker Nabih Berri, and today I’m carrying the same message to [Bassil],” he added.
Separately, U.S. Ambassador to Lebanon David Hale confirmed Monday that his country’s policy toward Hezbollah remained the same and that Washington still considered it a terrorist organization, regardless of recent comments by American officials and thawing relations with Iran.
“Nothing has changed in our policy toward Hezbollah, a designated Foreign Terrorist Organization which is playing a destructive role in Syria,” Hale said after meeting with a delegation from the March 14 General Secretariat.
His comments come in the wake of speculation that a shift in designation may be imminent after U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry last week, during a surprise whirlwind visit to Beirut, became one of the first American officials to address the group so directly. Increasingly open channels of communication between the U.S. and Iran, particularly over the thorny nuclear issue, have further fueled the rumors.
Instead, Hale reiterated the usual U.S. position on Hezbollah, criticizing its ongoing involvement in the Syrian war and calling on it to pull its troops out.
“Hezbollah should withdraw its fighters from Syria immediately. They are only perpetuating the Syrian regime’s brutality against its own people, drawing extremists into the region and Lebanon, and contributing to the insecurity that is driving refugees to seek shelter in Lebanon,” he said.
Hale added that Hezbollah should instead try to help bring an end to the war: “Those who have influence with the Syrian regime need to use it to move the regime toward a negotiated political solution, not to cause more bloodshed and participate in the regime’s campaign against its own people.”
Reiterating his country’s commitment to its partnership with Lebanon, Hale also referenced its support for the Taif Accord and the Baabda Declaration.
“By sending fighters into Syria, Hezbollah has violated its own commitment to the Baabda Declaration and Lebanon’s policy of disassociation from the Syrian conflict,” the diplomat said.
“The United States remains committed to the foundations of our policy toward Lebanon: support for full implementation of the Taif Accord, U.N. Security Council Resolutions 1701 and 1559, and the Baabda Declaration, as well as support for the work of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon,” he said. “These provide the ingredients for the stability of Lebanon. We stand with all Lebanese who seek to fulfill the obligations related to these pillars.”
The ambassador also took the chance to call for the election of a new head of state as soon as possible.
“A prolonged presidential vacancy threatens Lebanon’s stability. It is for the Lebanese to elect a Lebanese president, but we urge Parliament to do so soon,” he said. “Only with a fully functioning presidency, Parliament and government will Lebanon be able to address effectively, with international support, the challenges it faces.”