BEIRUT: March 8 presidential candidate Sleiman Frangieh demonstrated in a long television interview two days ago that he is ready to meet his rivals halfway, Interior Minister Nouhad Machnouk said Saturday.
"Almost three hours (of interview time) can be summed up in one sentence: [Let us] meet in the middle of the road. [Frangieh] did not exaggerate..., [he] did not lie. He ran for the presidency with sincere political realism," Machnouk said.
Speaking during a ceremony to mark the 10th anniversary of the assassination of politician and journalist Gebran Tueni, Machnouk, a member of the March 14 coalition's Future Movement, said he understood his remarks would not draw applause from many in the audience.
He warned, however, that Lebanon could only avoid the chaos that has engulfed much of the region by working with rivals and making compromises.
Machnouk rejected the notion that electing Frangieh, a close ally and childhood friend of Syrian President Bashar Assad, would constitute a "betrayal of the martyrs."
Martyrs "do not fall in order to perpetuate conflict... They fall for the country, and save it," he said.
Tueni was one of several politicians mostly from the March 14 coalition assassinated in a string of bomb and shooting attacks beginning in 2005. Members of the coalition blame Damascus for the killings.
In his interview Thursday on LBCI's Kalam Ennas talk show, Frangieh reiterated that he would not abandon his friends and allies, but insisted he would not receive dictates from Assad or make decisions against Lebanon's interests.
He affirmed his loyalty to the March 8 coalition, but promised to be president for all of Lebanon.
Until recently, Change and Reform Bloc leader Michel Aoun had been understood as the March 8 coalition's presidential candidate since elections began in the spring of last year.
But after more than a year-and-a-half-long presidential vacuum, Future Movement head Saad Hariri last month dabbled with the idea of nominating Frangieh, March 8's other main Christian leader, in exchange for himself returning to the premiership.
The initiative has received mixed reactions from figures inside both coalitions. Aoun and the leaders of the two main March 14 Christian parties have rejected the plan.
Among its supporters are the Progressive Socialist Party led by Walid Jumblatt, and Saudi Arabia.
Earlier in the day, Saudi Ambassador to Lebanon Ali Awad Assiri said his country would back any initiative that saw the election of president.
"We applaud any steps taken among Lebanese for a head of state to be chosen at the earliest chance," he told reporters after meeting with Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea, who is officially still the March 14 presidential candidate.