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Lebanon News

Paris talks focused on sectarianism, security

File - Former Prime Minister Saad Hariri.(The Daily Star/Mohammad Azakir)

Attention was diverted last week to the Parisian meetings that were held between a number of Lebanese officials in order to discuss the presidential, parliamentary and governmental crises in Lebanon and whether there are any solutions to resolve these files.

During a meeting between former Prime Minister Saad Hariri and former President Michel Sleiman about the Lebanese presidential election, the latter stressed that while the presidency was a national matter, it remained a Christian priority, something he had already relayed to Bkirki, head of the Lebanese Forces Samir Geagea and Change and Reform bloc leader Michel Aoun.

Sleiman said it was necessary to hold the election without any foreign interference, and that it was still possible to do so regardless of the current regional crises.

Both agreed on the election of a consensus president who fulfilled all the necessary national criteria.

The two also agreed on the importance of the Lebanese supporting the Army and the Internal Security Forces in their attempts to impose security and stability in the country.

Both Hariri and Sleiman discussed the dangers of the developments in Iraq and their possible repercussions on neighboring countries, especially Lebanon.

Separately, the Elysee Palace in Paris hosted a meeting between former President Michel Sleiman and French President Francois Hollande, which sources said was an “exceptional” one and included discussions on developments in Lebanon as well as in the region.

The two talked at length about the rapidly evolving political and security-related events in Lebanon, as well as the latest news from Iraq and their possible frightening repercussions.

According to sources present, Hollande expressed his keenness to listen to Sleiman’s approach to the events unraveling in Iraq regarding the fact that the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) has taken control of a number of key areas and governorates and is now advancing on Baghdad. The French president also listened to Sleiman’s views on the possible implications of this on the rest of the region, particularly in light of the recent suicide attacks in Beirut’s Tayyouneh and east Lebanon’s Dahr al-Baidar.

The sources revealed that Hollande expressed serious fears about the spread of violence from Syria into Iraq and eventually into Lebanon. The country has been made more fragile as a result of the divisions between its political parties and the presidential vacuum, factors that could disrupt the work of its institutions.

Hollande also said the formation of a new Islamic “state” crossing the Syrian-Iraqi border, made possible by the evacuation of the Syrian and Iraqi security forces, could fuel further sectarianism and threaten the borders and demographic composition of the Middle East.

For his part, Sleiman stressed the importance of his continuing calls for the Lebanese to commit to neutrality in order to spare Lebanon from suffering the repercussions of the regional and international wars centered in Syria. He had already warned Hezbollah against involving itself in sectarian strife, but his calls were not heeded, he added.

Discussions also focused on the failed Lebanese presidential election, the circumstances that led to Parliament missing the constitutional deadline to pick a new president, the list of both announced and unannounced candidates, the conference in Italy’s capital Rome in support of the Lebanese Army and the efforts to act on the Saudi donation to buy French weaponry for Lebanon’s Army. Sleiman demanded in particular that extra attention be given to the Army, especially at the moment.

Hollande concluded by praising the former Lebanese president’s actions during his six-year term, particularly his work on the formation of the International Support Group for Lebanon.

While in Paris, Sleiman also held a meeting with head of the Progressive Socialist Party Walid Jumblatt at the Monsieur Bleu restaurant by the Eiffel Tower. The two reviewed the centrist political stances they took while working alongside former Prime Minister Najib Mikati, something both consider a valuable experience in light of the hardening attitudes of all of the political parties and the support of regional and international powers.

They also stressed the importance of raising awareness in Arab nations, especially Lebanon, of the dangers of division in the region and agreed that figures should adhere to the essence of independence based on the National Pact.

Sleiman and Jumblatt agreed to support moderate and consensual stances and back parties seeking to lower national divisions, which are threatening the sustainability of the Lebanese institutions and could lead to their paralysis.

They also expressed their concern that Lebanese powers were underestimating the need to hold the presidential election without foreign interference, pointing to the possibility of the file having to fall into the realm of Western-Iranian negotiations, signaling a long presidential vacancy that would have serious economic, security, and touristic implications.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on June 26, 2014, on page 3.

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