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Lebanon suffers in stalemate of regional power struggle

File - President Michel Sleiman, center, meets with the Ambassadors of the International Support Group for Lebanon in Baabda Palace, Tuesday, Feb. 25, 2014. (The Daily Star/Dalati Nohra, HO)

Diplomatic sources believe any future Saudi-Iranian dialogue is unlikely to lead to the resolution of the region’s numerous conflicts, of which Syria’s civil war is at the forefront, given the opposing interests of both states in Syria and elsewhere.

A former minister who attended a meeting with diplomats in Lebanon quoted them as saying that Riyadh would remain a key ally to the U.S. as long as the Saudi royal family continued to rule the oil giant, as Washington’s support was the only guarantee for the success of Saudi Arabia’s foreign policy.

The sources also said occasional instances of Russian leniency were “diplomatic tricks” the West had become used to since the years of the Cold War, adding that Russia’s policy toward the West was still a “cat and mouse game” today.

Developments in the region are therefore determined by the state of U.S.-Russian ties. Lebanon, for example, was only able to form a government in light of an international-regional agreement that is also likely to play a role in the election of a new president this spring.

The diplomats said they were adamant that the presidential election would be held on time. According to the former minister, who asked to remain anonymous, the diplomats said world powers that were concerned with the situation in Lebanon all agreed on this point, in particular the U.S., Russia, France, Britain and all other European Union states.

These countries highlighted the importance of bolstering stability in Lebanon and distancing the country as much as possible from the civil war in neighboring Syria, which has grave repercussions for the security and economic conditions of the small nation.

The world powers also agree that Lebanon should be spared from a presidential vacuum, the consequences of which are difficult to predict.

The former minister quoted the diplomats as saying the green light that facilitated the formation of Lebanon’s government should also help facilitate timely presidential elections, as the role of president represented a guarantee for Lebanon’s Christians and a necessity for its Muslims.

The former minister said potential candidates were not yet being considered, and expressed his regret that Lebanon was unable to hold presidential elections on its own, as though it was still in need of foreign tutelage.

When new governments are being formed or when parliamentary or presidential elections are approaching, the former minister said that Lebanese officials resort to their regional and international backers who interfere in the smallest political details.

A European diplomat who took part in the meeting said Lebanon’s major problems could only be solved by Parliament passing a modern and balanced electoral law that provides fair representation for all segments of Lebanese society.

Such a law, according to the diplomat, would pave the way for the creation of a state in which reforms could target low-ranking posts in the public sector and could eventually lead to the formation of a new political, administrative and economic class in the country.

The ambassador voiced his doubt over the idea that any of the March 8 and March 14 potential presidential candidates would reach power, as none of them would able to win the votes of two-thirds of MPs.

Attendees of the meeting said the Vatican would play a major role in preventing a presidential vacuum, helping to preserve the historical role of Maronites in Lebanon and the wider region.

Although President Michel Sleiman opposes the extension of his term, the diplomats said that it was still being considered by many Arab and European states. However, they added that Hezbollah’s verbal attack on Sleiman last week might be an indicator that the party opposed such a move.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on March 04, 2014, on page 3.

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