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U.S. against vacuum, no presidential favorites

File - Prime Minister-designate Tammam Salam, right, receives U.S. ambassador to Lebanon David Hale in Beirut, Friday, Jan. 24, 2014. (The Daily Star/Dalati Nohra, HO)

The United States does not want to see a power vacuum in Lebanon but has no favorite candidate for the upcoming presidential election; diplomatic sources told The Daily Star Friday.

The U.S is not backing any person and believes that it is up to the Lebanese solely to pick their new president, said the sources who spoke on condition of anonymity.

U.S. Ambassador David Hale, who is in Washington attending the Global Chiefs of Mission Conference – a State Department gathering to coordinate the work of America’s ambassadors around the world – has no plans to make a second visit to Saudi Arabia on his way back here, the sources said.

Hale who held talks in Riyadh back in January, will return directly to Beirut after his trip to the U.S., the sources added.

Though it remains unclear whether the string of events that followed Hale’s talks in Riyadh – including the formation of a government in Lebanon and Saudi Arabia’s new terror law – were direct consequences or a mere coincidence, Hale’s travels never fail to provoke speculation and rumors.

The sources explained that during the January visit, a combination of issues were covered, chief among them was Lebanon, which is a top priority for Hale. They added that the U.S. and Saudi Arabia have a common interest in a stable Lebanon.

The sources also noted that Hale’s meetings in Saudi Arabia came ahead of President Barack Obama’s upcoming visit to the kingdom, scheduled on March 27. “ Lebanon is part of the issues that are going to be addressed during deliberations,” one source said.

The diplomatic sources explained that the U.S. has emphasized to Lebanese politicians the negative implications of a power vacuum occurring. The sources underlined that contrary to several media reports, the U.S. did not back any particular name for the presidency.

The sources spoke about a set of qualities the U.S. was looking for in any new Lebanese president; honesty and transparency being chief among them. The U.S. would also like to see the Lebanese seize a rare historic opportunity to hold free presidential election unshackled from external pressures or foreign dominance.

“What actually matters for the U.S. is the fairness and the transparency of the process,” a source said.

Several unconfirmed media reports had suggested that the U.S. backed Free Patriotic Movement leader MP Michel Aoun for the presidency in a bid to significantly curtail Hezbollah’s role.

But the diplomatic sources snub the reports as baseless, saying Washington will work with any elected Lebanese president. The “priorities and the actions” of the new president will dictate “the priorities and reactions” of the U.S., the sources said.

The sources added that while the U.S. admitted the troubles Lebanon was going through as a result of the war raging next door, Washington believes that if some Lebanese groups withdraw their support to Syrian President Bashar Assad, “problems will not be problems.”

The U.S. also considered that some Lebanese groups justifying their involvement alongside Assad in Syria as part of the war against terrorism as a “backward and ridiculous argument,” the sources continued.

For the U.S., it was the military support that Hezbollah has provided Assad to crush the originally “peaceful popular protests” that has brought in the extremists. “In Syria, extremism was a direct response to violence.”

But the sources highlighted Washington’s unwavering support for the Lebanese Army and the Internal Security Forces in their mission to maintain security and stability and help Lebanon and the Lebanese people.

Asked about the nature of the aid the U.S. was providing to Lebanon’s security institutions and whether it actually fulfills the real needs of those agencies, the sources explained that America was careful to address the top challenges security authorities were facing.

The sources said the U.S. was aware that terrorist threats as well as human and drug trafficking were the most daunting challenges to security in Lebanon. They added that the type of training and equipment the U.S. offers “helps address these issues.”

Ultimately, the U.S. is exerting efforts with its global partners to render Lebanon “a stabilizing force in the region,” the sources pointed. “In light of the uniqueness of your country, the U.S. would like Lebanon to become a regional player instead of being played with.”

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on March 15, 2014, on page 2.

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Summary

The United States does not want to see a power vacuum in Lebanon but has no favorite candidate for the upcoming presidential election; diplomatic sources told The Daily Star Friday.

The U.S is not backing any person and believes that it is up to the Lebanese solely to pick their new president, said the sources who spoke on condition of anonymity.

The diplomatic sources explained that the U.S. has emphasized to Lebanese politicians the negative implications of a power vacuum occurring. The sources underlined that contrary to several media reports, the U.S. did not back any particular name for the presidency.

The U.S. would also like to see the Lebanese seize a rare historic opportunity to hold free presidential election unshackled from external pressures or foreign dominance.

The diplomatic sources snub the reports as baseless, saying Washington will work with any elected Lebanese president.


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