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World Council for the Cedars Revolution

Jun 06th
March 14 Forces defend their 'counter-initiative' PDF Print E-mail
Written by Daily Star   
Monday, 17 September 2007

March 14 forces meeting (file photo)
March 14 forces meeting (file photo)

BEIRUT: Lebanon's governing coalition, the March 14 Forces, repeated on Friday their demand that Speaker Nabih Berri not set any conditions for dialogue over the fate of the presidency, insisting that their statement on Wednesday represented a positive counter-initiative focused on resolving the political crisis. 

Meanwhile, foreign envoys continued their meetings with local officials urging dialogue and accord among the Lebanese.

A road map for inter-Lebanese dialogue is being prepared, said Sudanese presidential envoy Mohammad Othman Ismail, who is in Lebanon on a fact-finding trip. "A lack of trust still exists [between opposing parties]. We are trying to build that trust to resume dialogue once again," he said Friday after meeting Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea.

Geagea urged the opposition to embrace the "March 14 initiative," referring to the Bikfaya statement, to reach an understanding over the presidential elections and rescue Lebanon from crisis.

During an interview on Thursday, Berri had criticized the March 14 statement, calling it a "cable of condolence."

Responding to the criticism, Geagea said "if they do not want to agree with us over the presidency, they are free to do so, let them say so instead of misreading positions and what is said."

Geagea renewed a call for the March 8 alliance to sit down on the negotiating table to come to an agreement over presidential elections. He said that if Berri is ready to move forward the doors are open and his coalition is ready to meet him whenever he wishes.

"Speaker Berri calls for agreement over the presidency but with pre-conditions, while we call upon him to agree without pre-conditions," Geagea said, adding that neither side can set conditions to dialogue.

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Saltanov, who arrived in Beirut late Thursday met Berri, Prime Minister Fouad Siniora and President Emile Lahoud Friday. He voiced his government's support for a solution to the current crisis that is "worked out by the Lebanese themselves" without any foreign intervention.

"We believe any solution should not be imposed on the Lebanese and we support inter-Lebanese dialogue to restore a united, democratic, independent and sovereign Lebanon," Saltanov told reporters after meeting Lahoud in Baabda.

"We consider that it is now time to return to dialogue among the Lebanese because there is no other way to guarantee the future of Lebanon," Saltanov told reporters after meeting resigned Foreign Minister Fawzi Salloukh.

US Ambassador Jeffery Feltman, speaking to AFP Friday, said his country would not meddle in the presidential elections but that the US will not recognize a president it viewed as a renegade head of state.

Parliamentary majority leader MP Saad Hariri Friday denied that he or the March 14 forces had at any time considered delegating Berri and Maronite Patriarch Nasrallah Boutros Sfeir to nominate candidates for the presidency, as the speaker had claimed in his interview on Thursday.

Sfeir, who returned to Beirut Friday, told reporters that after his meeting Terje Roed Larsen, he was not convinced that an electoral session could be convened with half plus one of MPs if two thirds are not available.

Presidential candidate MP Robert Ghanem, who met Hariri Friday, stressed the need to arrive at presidential elections via consensus and cooperation among all national partners. "I feel we must take the positive elements from the March 14 statement," Ghanem said. He said March 14 forces want elections to proceed with a consensus candidate if possible, or at least with a majority of MPs.

Democratic Gathering MP Fouad al-Saad, speaking to Voice of Lebanon radio Friday said Berri was not responsive to the March 14 Forces and had interpreted their counter-initiative negatively. "This means the speaker has shut the door on his own initiative or considered the other side as having shut the door on it," Saad said.

He said the March 14 Forces had drafted their response to Berri with good intentions. "Speaker Berri considered the two-thirds quorum issue a basic right not open for debate, in this case we are stuck in place as the disagreement remains over interpreting Article 49 of the Constitution," Saad said.

Saad said Berri's position was negative adding that "new ways have to be found to restart dialogue if we are to reach an agreement or an understanding, but not this way." Saad said the local situation and crisis is intertwined with a regional and international crisis which makes reaching a solution difficult.

Former Prime Minister Najib Mikati, speaking to visitors in Tripoli Friday, said Berri's initiative represents an opportunity for national salvation that must not be wasted.

"The alternative would be subjecting our country to the dangers of total collapse, constitutionally, politically and economically," Mikati said. "It is no longer useful for each side to stick to their positions and consider any step toward resolving the crisis a retreat or defeat."

By Hani M. Bathish, Daily Star staff, Saturday, September 15, 2007



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