BEIRUT: Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea and Free Patriotic Movement leader Michel Aoun announced Tuesday a thaw in the bitter rivalry that has plagued ties between the rival groups, following a rare meeting that saw the announcement of a highly-anticipated declaration of intent.
The LF chief opened his address by noting how he wished this meeting happened thirty years ago, saying “it’s better late than never.”
“The main reason for this meeting is the joining of two large political forces," Geagea said from Aoun’s Rabieh residence. “And in the case that these forces join [together], then they could have a positive effect on developments in Lebanon.”
Bitter rivals whose leaders engaged in a bloody conflict in the final year of Lebanon’s 1975-90 Civil War, the LF and FPM have held a series of dialogue sessions over the past six months which culminated in the official announcement of a declaration of intent, outlining points of agreement between the parties on certain key issues facing Lebanon.
The highly-anticipated meeting, Geagea said, is not the end of dialogue but the start of a new relationship between the two rival parties.
“We were not happy with the [recent] stage in our relationship, and we needed to exit this point [in order] to move on to a better stage,” he said. “Some people think that this meeting is the end of our dialogue, but honestly this is only the start.”
The LF chief said that the past six month of preparatory talks set the ground-work for improving almost 30 years of thorny relations between the two groups, noting that today the relationship will “start at zero and the real work will begin from here onwards.”
“We are going to exercise our full efforts so this attempt doesn’t fail,” he said. “Issues that we agree on will be good and any differences we have will be put aside for a later stage.”
He said the declaration of intent wasn’t easy to reach but noted that it reflects the positive dynamic that is starting to exist between the two parties.
The LF chief concluded by saying that “he hoped this new start will never end.”
Aoun also spoke briefly after the meeting, saying that Geagea’s surprise visit crowned a phase that some people say has taken too long to reach.
He said that dialogue between the rival parties was a gift to Christians and asserted that the Lebanese population “will see more and more from now on.”
When asked about whether the fate of the Lebanese presidency was to be determined by regional powers like Saudi Arabia or Iran, Aoun said that “in the end the decision is ours.”
A meeting between the two party leaders was seen as possible crucial step to ending the country's year-long presidential impasse.
Both Aoun and Geagea are candidates, but neither has been able to garner enough parliamentary support to win.
Though it may reduce tensions, the declaration is unlikely to change the political alignment of either the FPM or the LF.
Geagea’s presidential candidacy is backed by the March 14 coalition, while Aoun’s is supported by the March 8 alliance.
The two parties also disagree over the legitimacy of Hezbollah’s arms and have diverging stances on the ongoing conflict in neighboring Syria, among other issues.