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Grand bargaining package sought for Lebanon

File - A worker carries the empty ballot box ahead of the presidential election session at the Parliament in Beirut, Wednesday, April 23, 2014. (The Daily Star/Mohammad Azakir)

Political and diplomatic circles have expressed worries that Lebanon could reach the May 25 deadline for the presidential election without political factions identifying a consensus candidate for the top post.

The concerns come as Lebanon’s political blocs dig in their heels and refuse the compromises that could prevent the country from falling into the presidential vacuum.

But the sources say talks will continue internally through political, religious and diplomatic initiatives as well as externally, as states with influence in Lebanon realize the dangers of a presidential vacuum or the possibility that the Cabinet could fall if a third of its members resign, amid a failure by Lebanese officials to heed the advice of diplomats in the country.

As the countdown to May 25 continues, there is increasing talk of adding the presidential election to a grand bargain of compromises that includes the shape of the next Cabinet, the parliamentary election law, and a number of sensitive administrative, security and economic appointments, particularly amid talk of a possible Saudi-Iranian rapprochement.

However, observers say it will take time before the impact is felt from such a reconciliation, which is expected to begin with the visit of Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif to Saudi Arabia, which might be preceded by a visit of his deputy Hossein Amir-Abdolahian, and could be followed by a visit from President Hassan Rouhani to the kingdom during the annual Muslim pilgrimage.

The Daily Star has learned that most ambassadors who have been in contact with the presidency and senior politicians in Lebanon have expressed a readiness to host in their countries any conferences or meetings to help Lebanon reach a solution to could prevent a repeat of the experience of 2008, when a failure to agree on a president contributed to tensions that sparked deadly clashes in Beirut.

In a recent meeting, Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri reiterated that the parliamentary elections would occur on time and that the current assembly would not be extended, saying that he wished to pass a modern election law but would proceed with elections under the current rules if no solution is reached.

The only constant principle for Western states remains maintaining political, security and economic stability in Lebanon.

Diplomatic sources told The Daily Star that the international community had set four conditions for the next president, the first of which is his adherence to international resolutions, including U.N. Security Council Resolutions 1559, 1701 and 1680.

The next president must also introduce reforms to combat corruption in Lebanese institutions, as well as maintaining “positive neutrality” toward regional conflicts, particularly in Syria.

The final condition is strengthening security and military institutions in order to maintain stability in Lebanon, the diplomatic sources said.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on May 21, 2014, on page 3.

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Summary

Political and diplomatic circles have expressed worries that Lebanon could reach the May 25 deadline for the presidential election without political factions identifying a consensus candidate for the top post.

The sources say talks will continue internally through political, religious and diplomatic initiatives as well as externally, as states with influence in Lebanon realize the dangers of a presidential vacuum or the possibility that the Cabinet could fall if a third of its members resign, amid a failure by Lebanese officials to heed the advice of diplomats in the country.

The final condition is strengthening security and military institutions in order to maintain stability in Lebanon, the diplomatic sources said.


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