BEIRUT: Egypt threw its weight behind President Michel Sleiman’s efforts to resolve the country’s government crisis Tuesday with the visit of Foreign Minister Mohammad Kamel Amr.
Amr called for a “made in Lebanon” solution to the current deadlock.
“Any solution for the current crisis should be made in Lebanon and through consensus among all parties,” Amr told reporters after meeting with Speaker Nabih Berri, adding that he did not carry any Egyptian initiative.
Amr arrived in Beirut Tuesday in a show of support for Sleiman’s efforts to preserve stability.
Egyptian Ambassador to Lebanon Ashraf Hamdi said Egypt’s President Mohammad Mursi dispatched the foreign minister to Beirut “to convey a message to President Sleiman in support of the state of Lebanon and its stability.”
After arriving in Beirut shortly before midday, Amr traveled to the Lebanese Forces headquarters in Maarab for a meeting with LF leader Samir Geagea.
Amr told reporters after the meeting that the formation of a new government is an issue for the Lebanese to decide on, adding that Egypt is ready to help in order to avoid bloodshed in Lebanon.
Geagea, meanwhile, reiterated that dialogue would only be possible following the resignation of the government, which he argued would not result in instability.
“There is no such thing as power vacuum. The constitution stipulates that the president will name a new prime minister following consultations with the different blocs, thus making the existing government a caretaker one until a new government is formed,” Geagea said.
“Those who are warning of a power vacuum do not want to change the current government,” he added, hinting at Progressive Socialist Party leader MP Walid Jumblatt who said earlier that he turned down a request by former Prime Minister Saad Hariri to pull out his ministers from the Cabinet as he did not want to throw the country into a power vacuum.
Jumblatt reiterated his position Tuesday in a phone conversation with the Egyptian foreign minister, a statement issued by the PSP said.
Jumblatt apologized for not being able to meet Amr in person as it was not possible for the PSP leader to leave his residence in Mukhtara and head to Beirut, the statement said, adding that the minister’s tight schedule prevented him for traveling to Mukhtara.
Jumblatt told Amr he is open to unconditional talks on forming a new government while the current one is still in office, the statement said.
The PSP chief remains at odd with the opposition March 14 coalition over his backing for Prime Minister Najib Mikati’s Cabinet and his relationship with Hezbollah.
PSP sources told The Daily Star that a meeting bringing together senior officials from the PSP and Hezbollah was held at Public Works Minister Ghazi al-Aridi’s residence late Monday.
Besides Aridi, the meeting was attended by PSP ministers Akram Shehayeb and Alaaddine Terro, Hezbollah Minister Mohammad Fneish along with MPs Hussein Hjaj Hasan and Hasan Fadlallah, and senior group official Wafiq Safa.
The Egyptian foreign minister also met with opposition March 14 leaders former Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, former President Amin Gemayel and Free Patriotic Movement leader MP Michel Aoun.
Amr is scheduled to meet with both Sleiman and Mikati Wednesday.
Mikati was in Budapest Tuesday where he held talks with Hungarian President Janos Ader, Prime Minister Viktor Orban and Parliament Speaker Laszlo Kover.
Amr’s two-day visit comes only a few days after a visit to Beirut by French President Francois Hollande, who pledged his country’s support for protecting Lebanon against threats of destabilization caused by the fallout of the ongoing violent conflict in neighboring Syria.
Meanwhile, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said France will intensify efforts to end the political stalemate in Lebanon, sparked over the assassination of the country’s top intelligence chief.
“Definitely, in the coming months we [France] will intensify diplomatic efforts toward [resolving] the Lebanese crisis, the Syria crisis, Iran’s nuclear program and the peace process in the Middle East,” Fabius said in an interview with pan-Arab newspaper Al-Hayat published Tuesday.
While the French foreign minister hailed Sleiman’s efforts to resume dialogue to preserve Lebanon’s stability, he said France would not receive Hezbollah representatives given Paris’ stance toward the resistance group, recalling its recent violation of Israeli airspace.
“This is not the way we work. We know that Hezbollah is in the government, but at the same time we blame Hezbollah for recently sending an Iranian-made pilotless plane over Israel and this does not facilitate dialogue with them,” Fabius said.
He was responding to a question on whether Paris would receive Hezbollah representatives given the French government’s openness to the March 8 and the rival March 14 political camps.
Fabius, however, was keen to show that France stands at an equal distance from the rival political camps in Lebanon, and stressed that a planned visit by Mikati to France would continue as scheduled.
“Yes, we invited him to visit [Paris on Nov. 19]. He is the prime minister of Lebanon and it is normal [for France] to receive him,” Fabius said. “At the same time it is no secret that we have contacts with opposition figures and March 14 and this is normal.
“We constantly listen to what our Lebanese friends want. They call on us to stay beside them and keep French troops in UNIFIL in the south and this was what [French] President Hollande has stressed,” he added.
“They also want us to facilitate national dialogue and this is what we are doing now, in addition to bilateral cooperation between the two countries,” Fabius said.
March 14 has repeatedly called for the resignation of Mikati’s government and the formation of a neutral Cabinet following the assassination of intelligence chief Brig. Gen. Wissam al-Hasan on Oct. 19.
Sleiman said in a statement Monday that the issue of Cabinet change is “subject to dialogue and understanding on a change for the better that can embody national unity.”
Russian Ambassador to Beirut Alexander Zasypkin called Tuesday for addressing the government crisis through dialogue and consultations among Lebanese rivals.
Following a meeting with Kataeb Leader Amin Gemayel, Zasypkin said that what is important for Russia is for a solution to be found through diplomatic processes.
He added that any foreign intervention in the formation of the government will not help, as there is no united regional or international stance on the matter.
Instead, Zasypkin said the issue should be left to the Lebanese to solve.
The Russian diplomat added that the international community should only work on easing the tensed atmosphere in the country.
Zasypkin warned against a power vacuum in Lebanon amid calls by the March 14-led opposition for the government’s resignation.
Meanwhile, Aoun said following a meeting of his Reform and Change parliamentary bloc that he backs a small cabinet that includes the heads of the rival blocs, adding that a technocrat or neutral government would be difficult to achieve.
“I am serious about proposing a small cabinet with the condition that we would not have to face a power vacuum in order to form such a government,” he said.
In a controversial remark, Aoun said that Hasan, the late Information Branch head, was in a way or another responsible for his own death by failing to protect himself.
“He is responsible for protecting all of us, but he failed to take the necessary measures to protect himself.”