U.S. Ambassador to Lebanon David Hale proposed a deal to Change and Reform bloc chief Michel Aoun in which MP Robert Ghanem or Telecoms Minister Boutros Harb would run for the presidency instead of Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea, political sources told The Daily Star.
As part of the deal, Aoun’s son-in-law, Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil, would be given the Batroun parliamentary seat uncontested and Brig. Shamel Roukoz, his other son-in-law would be made Army commander, the sources said. Aoun’s share of seats in the Cabinet would also be increased, the sources said.
But the offer was opposed by Aoun, who also rejected the prospect of running against Geagea in the election, although he told Hale that he was more popular with Christians than the LF leader and had a stronger chance of being elected to the presidency. Aoun was heard saying that “it is 1,000 times better for Geagea to be president than for Boutros Harb [to win].”
The U.S. ambassador praises Aoun in all the events he participates in, though he declares that his country does not favor one candidate over another for the presidency, the sources said.
Diplomatic sources said that Western envoys in Lebanon have been instructed to encourage the timely election of a president, regardless of internal alliances and outcomes.
Though the envoys consider Aoun a strong man who can engage with everyone internally and externally, they want a president who can contain the conflict with Hezbollah rather than one who embraces completely the idea of the resistance in the way that Aoun does.
Western ambassadors tell visitors that they would prefer a non-provocative president who is chosen as a result of consensus among Lebanese political factions rather than external, behind-the-scenes deals, the sources said. This is because the coming period carries many dangers and requires critical decision-making, which is not possible under a weak president.
The envoys do not consider the size of the parliamentary bloc a measure of strength, but rather the timely ability to take the necessary decisions and to stand up to anyone in defense of Lebanon’s interests. They also want the strong president to be a link between local factions, and even between regional rivals, given Lebanon’s natural role as a setting for religious, cultural and political dialogue.
Speaker Nabih Berri will not return from Rome until the weekend, and has scheduled a parliamentary session to elect a president for June 9. But diplomatic sources believe the issue requires more time, awaiting the results of a possible Saudi-Iranian rapprochement and the June 18-19 negotiations between Iran and the West over the former’s nuclear program, as well as clarity in the aftermath of the Egyptian and Syrian presidential elections and their impact on Lebanon.
Three other upcoming events will likely have an impact on the presidential election. The first is the visit by Kuwait’s Emir Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah to Iran in the coming days and its impact on Iranian-Gulf relations. The second is the outcome of the Syrian presidential election and secret discussions in Arab and Western capitals on solutions to the Syria crisis. The third is an anticipated summit in Riyadh that will include U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, the Saudi and Iranian foreign ministers and perhaps the Saudi crown prince.