BEIRUT — Forty-eight hours after a meeting in Paris with French President Emmanuel Macron, focused on the presidential stalemate in Lebanon, Maronite Patriarch Bechara Al-Rai announced on Thursday that he had been tasked by the Vatican and Paris to engage in dialogue with all Lebanese parties involved, including Hezbollah.
According to a diplomatic source, Cardinal Rai informed the French president of "an inter-Christian agreement in principle which seems to be progressing well," without mentioning the name of the former Finance Minister and current IMF Middle East chief, Jihad Azour, around whom the opposition groups have allegedly agreed in principle.
No election session has been held in Parliament since January. Lebanon has been without a President since October 2022, following the end of Michel Aoun's term of office. Also on Thursday, Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri declared his readiness to convene an electoral session "if at least two serious candidates are announced."
Berri's Amal movement and Hezbollah both support Marada leader Sleiman Frangieh for president.
"Even with Hezbollah"
"The Vatican and France have asked me to work with the rest of the components on the local scene," the Maronite patriarch told a delegation from the Journalists' syndicate. "We will talk to everyone without exception, even Hezbollah. Our activity will begin today," he continued. Rai also pointed out that "the President of Parliament was supposed to call an electoral session two months before the end of Michel Aoun's presidential term."
"But we are conspicuous by our violation of the Constitution," Rai said. "We have become the laughing stock of other countries because of certain politicians."
In response to the patriarch's remarks, the Shiite Jaafarite mufti Ahmad Kabalan, reputedly close to Hezbollah, said that "Lebanon is made in Lebanon, not abroad." Defending Berri, he asserted that "the Parliament Speaker looks after the interests of Christians well before those of Muslims."
On Tuesday, during a meeting with Archbishop Rai, French President Macron expressed his support for the latter's efforts to "confront the political impasse," calling on all forces in the country to break out of it "without delay." Macron also said that "the stalemate over the election of a Head of State is an obstacle to the reforms without which there can be no recovery and lasting stability in the country."
In the face of the presidential impasse, Barbara Leaf, US Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs, announced on Wednesday that the Biden administration was considering the possibility of imposing sanctions on Lebanese officials if a head of state is not elected.
For his part, Berri reaffirmed in a statement on Thursday that "the doors of the House are not and will not be closed to a session to elect a President of the Republic in the event that at least two serious candidates are announced."
"Any declaration to the contrary (...) will have no effect on the head of the Legislative," he added.
Marc Daou, Forces of change MP (Aley), said "the Speaker of Parliament is intentionally blocking the election of a president by not calling an election session, citing jurisprudence that has no constitutional basis, in order to serve his own interests and impose the candidate of the Shiite tandem." He called on Berri "to convene Parliament for an electoral session in accordance with constitutional norms," and stated that "it is the responsibility of MPs to decide who the serious candidates are."
BEIRUT — Forty-eight hours after a meeting in Paris with French President Emmanuel Macron, focused on the presidential stalemate in Lebanon, Maronite Patriarch Bechara Al-Rai announced on Thursday that he had been tasked by the Vatican and Paris to engage in dialogue with all Lebanese parties involved, including Hezbollah.According to a diplomatic source, Cardinal Rai informed the French...