BEIRUT: Former Prime Minister Saad Hariri Friday capped his three-day visit to Moscow with a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin, discussing ongoing efforts to end the 22-month-old presidential vacuum in Lebanon.
The one-hour meeting, which included a tete-a-tete between Putin and Hariri, focused on the situation in Lebanon and the efforts exerted by Hariri to end the presidential vacuum and elect a president, according to a statement released by the former premier’s media office.
Discussions also tackled developments in the region, particularly in Syria, and the efforts exerted by Russia to reach a solution to the Syrian crisis, the statement said. Hariri later left Moscow for Riyadh.
The meeting, held at the Kremlin, was attended by Interior Minister Nouhad Machnouk, former MP Ghattas Khoury, Hariri’s chief of staff Nader Hariri and his adviser for Russian affairs Georges Chaaban.
The meeting was also attended by Putin’s foreign affairs adviser Yuri Ushakov and his special envoy to the Middle East and Africa, Deputy Foreign Minister Michael Bogdanov.
Hariri received the representative of the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch and All the East Archbishop Niphon Saikali Thursday.
After holding talks with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov Wednesday, Hariri said he had sought Russia’s help in ending the presidential vacuum. It was Hariri’s second visit to Moscow in less than a year.
Since his return to Lebanon last February following four years in self-imposed exile in Saudi Arabia and France for security reasons, Hariri has been holding consultations with various Lebanese political leaders in an attempt to reach a consensus over ending the presidential vacuum that has paralyzed Parliament legislation and the government’s work.
Parliament last week failed for the 37th time to convene to elect a president over a lack of quorum, prompting Speaker Nabih Berri to schedule a new session for April 18.
The presidential battle is pitting Hariri’s choice, Marada Movement leader MP Sleiman Frangieh, against MP Michel Aoun, who is backed by Hezbollah, some of its March 8 allies and the Lebanese Forces. Frangieh’s presidential bid is also supported by Berri, MP Walid Jumblatt and some independent lawmakers.
Hariri’s nomination of Frangieh for the presidency was part of an initiative aimed at filling the vacuum in the top Christian post. But the initiative was bogged down after Frangieh’s nomination was rejected by the three main Christian parties: the LF, the Free Patriotic Movement and the Kataeb Party.
Though both candidates belong to the Hezbollah-led March 8 coalition, Frangieh has refused to bow out of the race in favor of Aoun, who is adamant about seeking the top Maronite post. The ongoing deadlock has prompted calls for searching for a neutral candidate who belongs to neither camp.
The Future Movement and its March 14 allies have repeatedly accused Iran of blocking the election of a president through Hezbollah.
For nearly two years, Aoun’s bloc, Hezbollah’s bloc and some of its March 8 allies have thwarted a quorum to elect a president with a consistent boycott of Parliament.
Hariri urged Iran a day earlier to turn its meddling in Arab states into a constructive involvement, calling on Tehran to support all of Lebanon and not just a specific faction, in a clear reference to Hezbollah, which is partly financed and armed by Iran. Meanwhile, Labor Minister Sejaan Azzi and Future Movement MP Atef Majdalani, after meeting with Beirut Greek Orthodox Archbishop Elias Audeh, called for the swift election of a president.
“We talked about national issues relating to the fate of the Lebanese presence in this stage which is witnessing intensive visits by international officials to Lebanon, while what is needed is the election of a president,” Azzi told reporters after the meeting.
For his part, Majdalani said. “We see that Parliament is paralyzed and the government is faltering and has been turned into [several] governments. Each minister is acting as if he is the government and the president,” he said.