Lebanon News

Berri discusses political scene with French envoy

BEIRUT: Newly appointed French charge d'affaires Andre Baran revealed on Monday that French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner and his envoy to Lebanon Jean-Claude Cousseran might return to Beirut "in the next few days or the upcoming weeks." "France is committed to helping Lebanon preserve its sovereignty and independence, and will not interrupt its efforts to solve the current political impasse in Lebanon," Baran told reporters following a meeting with Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri at the latter's residence in Ain al-Tineh.

Barran said he discussed with Berri recent developments on the Lebanese political scene, in addition to imminent presidential elections, which the French diplomat hoped, "would take place within constitutional deadlines."

Baran succeeds to former French Ambassador to Lebanon Bernard Emie as head of the French diplomacy in Lebanon. He still holds the status of charge d'affaires rather than ambassador because he still hasn't presented his letter of credence to President Emile Lahoud, as stipulated by diplomatic protocol. France has boycotted Lahoud since his term was extended in 2004.

"We salute Speaker Berri's incessant efforts to find a quick and effective solution to the deadlock and hope that international as well as regional initiatives to solve the crisis in Lebanon would succeed in containing escalating tensions," Baran added.

The third week of August has not brought any news concerning the deadlock in Lebanon, where loyalists and the opposition still diverge on key political issues, including the presidential election, and the formation of a national unity government.

Those two key issues are also at the core of Berri's initiative to solve the nine-month-old crisis in Lebanon.

On Monday, Al-Akhbar newspaper reported that Berri would not make his initiative public before he receives the answers of US Foreign Secretary Condoleezza Rice on three questions concerning the presidential election in Lebanon.

Berri sent his questions with US Ambassador to Lebanon Jeffrey Feltman, currently on a visit to his home country.

Berri's first query to Rice centered on the US view concerning the quorum for electing Lebanon's next president, and whether the US endorsed the absolute majority quorum currently being promoted by the ruling coalition.

The speaker's second question tackled the issue of a constitutional amendment, and whether the US administration agreed to such a step.

The Constitution stipulates that Article 49 be amended if an civil service employee was to be elected as president. The issue was raised after the names of Army Commander General Michel Suleiman and Treasurer Riad Salameh, both civil service employees, were heavily circulated as potential presidential candidates.

Berri's last query asked if the US administration was in favor of a consensus president, or does it prefer the election of a president belonging to a specific Lebanese political group.





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