BEIRUT — France's special Lebanon envoy Jean-Yves Le Drian on Wednesday urged Lebanese leaders to finally resolve a long-deadlocked presidential election, after more than a year with no head of state and no agreement between Parliamentary blocs on who to name for the top job.
Le Drian's comments come as part of his first visit to Lebanon since war broke out in Gaza and along the southern Lebanese border in October, and nearly 13 months after former president Michel Aoun left office with no successor in place.
The envoy's visit — his fourth since being appointed to the task by Paris — "aims to renew the position of the quintet [United States, Saudi Arabia, France, Egypt and Qatar] which calls on the Lebanese to unify their position [and] to accelerate the holding of the presidential election," according to a Grand Serail press release published after Le Drian sat down Wednesday with caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati.
Lebanon's Parliament has been unable to reach a consensus on a new president despite holding 12 electoral sessions since last year dedicated to the task.
However, Mikati was quoted as having told Le Drian that "the priority today is [efforts] to put an end to the Israeli aggression against Gaza and southern Lebanon."
Le Drian also met Wednesday with Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri and Lebanese Army chief Gen. Joseph Aoun. He is slated to meet former Progressive Socialist Party (PSP) leader Walid Joumblatt, Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea and Marada Movement leader Sleiman Frangieh.
Lebanese Forces chief Samir Geagea, following his Wednesday evening meeting with Le Drian, called for the implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 1701 in South Lebanon. "The government must make the decision to deploy the Lebanese army in the border region alongside the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL)," he said.
At a press conference in Meerab, the Christian leader claimed that Hezbollah was responsible for the displacement of border village residents. "It was not the Lebanese state that decided to launch operations from the south," he insisted. He added: "It is therefore not the State, but Hezbollah, that must compensate the local residents for their losses." The head of the LF fears that the looming vacuum at the head of the army adds further to the issue, saying: "That would be madness ... The simplest solution is to extend his mandate for another year."
With regard to the presidential issue, Samir Geagea also accused Hezbollah of being responsible for the delay in the deadline, even though Lebanon has been without a president since Oct. 31, 2022. "Mr. Le Drian, like the Qataris, is calling for the election of a third-party candidate, as neither Jihad Azour nor Sleiman Frangieh can be elected," he acknowledged.
"In principle, the opposition has no problem with this," he added. "However, there is no indication that Hezbollah is ready to give up its candidate. On the contrary, the party seems increasingly attached to Sleiman Frangieh, and this is unacceptable."
Hezbollah and its ally the Amal Movement continue to support the candidacy of Frangieh, rejected by the other traditional parties and the opposition.
Meanwhile, the majority of Christian parties support Jihad Azour, a former Finance Minister, though have said they are also open to a "third way." One "third way" candidate proposed by some parties has been Gen. Joseph Aoun, though his position in the army means he cannot become president except under certain conditions, including a potential change to the constitution.
Le Drian told L'Orient-Le Jour in an exclusive interview in September that he had already called on Lebanese politicians to “seek a third way," though stopped short of naming Gen. Aoun as a potential option.
In a letter addressed to Mikati, French President Emmanuel Macron said on Tuesday that “the presidential vacancy which has lasted for more than a year weighs on the country's ability to emerge from the current crisis and avoid a deterioration in security linked to the continuing war in Gaza.”