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Lebanon News

Fate of presidency linked to Syrian vote, Iraq’s government

MP Walid Jumblatt, right, and President Michel Sleiman attend a ceremony in the Chouf village of Brih, Saturday, May 17, 2014. (The Daily Star/Mahmoud Kheir)

The Lebanese presidential election will not be held on schedule or even shortly after the expiry of President Michel Sleiman’s six-year term on May 25 as the issue is closely linked to the Syrian presidential vote and the shape of the new government in Iraq, according to a Druze leader.

The Druze leader, who requested anonymity, was speaking at a meeting with a delegation of Gulf diplomats during which all aspects and intricacies of the Lebanese situation were discussed.

The Druze leader said a high-ranking Iraqi official had told him that Russia and Iran had asked Syrian President Bashar Assad to quickly act to decide the military battles against rebels in his favor ahead of the Syrian presidential election scheduled on June 3. The source said this has in fact happened after the regime forces achieved a military victory against rebels in the Qalamoun region.

However, a surprise came with Turkey’s support for a takeover of the predominantly Armenian town of Kassab near the Turkish border and the movement of some terrorist groups in southern Syria, the source said.

The Druze leader spoke about his assessment of Iran’s relations with the West, saying that major progress had been made in the ongoing talks between the two sides on Tehran’s nuclear program.

In addition, Saudi and Iranian officials have held intensive meetings on Iraq’s parliamentary elections, with the possibility of greater Sunni representation in the next Iraqi government, he said.

The Druze leader disclosed that an American-Saudi-Iranian agreement had been reached calling for Riyadh to end its interference in Lebanon and Syria in return for Tehran to stop its attempts to influence the situation in Yemen, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia’s eastern province.

The source also commented on the ongoing contacts between the Future Movement and MP Michel Aoun’s Free Patriotic Movement on the presidential election and other issues. The Druze leader said he was surprised by former Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s insistence on re-establishing balanced relations with Aoun even though the FPM leader returned from his Paris exile to Lebanon in 2005 after having signed an implicit accord with Syria calling for forging an alliance with Hezbollah and other March 8 parties in exchange for these parties supporting his presidential battle, which he lost in 2008.

Aoun, in the eyes of the Druze leader, cannot break his alliance with Hezbollah as long as the party is in need of the FPM leader to provide him with a Christian cover for its arms as well as its military intervention in Syria.

The Druze leader sees Hariri, the head of the Future Movement, as the strongest leader within the Sunni community, and said he therefore does not need an alliance with Aoun to prove his leadership and to become the next prime minister, even though the FPM leader heads a weighty parliamentary bloc of 27 lawmakers.

He recalled the political alliance that brought Hariri and Druze chief MP Walid Jumblatt together, describing it as the strongest alliance for moderate Sunnis.

“The two men have their weight in bolstering internal unity. While Hariri is certain of influencing the March 14 coalition, Jumblatt can exert influence on the centrists and some March 8 parties, namely Speaker Nabih Berri,” the leader said.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on May 20, 2014, on page 3.

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Summary

The Lebanese presidential election will not be held on schedule or even shortly after the expiry of President Michel Sleiman's six-year term on May 25 as the issue is closely linked to the Syrian presidential vote and the shape of the new government in Iraq, according to a Druze leader.

The Druze leader said he was surprised by former Prime Minister Saad Hariri's insistence on re-establishing balanced relations with Aoun even though the FPM leader returned from his Paris exile to Lebanon in 2005 after having signed an implicit accord with Syria calling for forging an alliance with Hezbollah and other March 8 parties in exchange for these parties supporting his presidential battle, which he lost in 2008 .


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