Moussa prolongs Beirut mission after initial talks show signs of progress
Arab League chief Amr Moussa said “more time was needed” to resolve Lebanon”s political logjam after he brought feuding parties together on Friday in a four-hour-long marathon meeting in Parliament. He added, however, that progress had been made on several issues during the meeting.
The meeting chaired by Moussa brought together parliamentary majority leader MP Saad HaririSaad-Hariri-Profile Sep-07 and former President Amin Gemayel from the ruling March 14 Forces coalition and Change and Reform Bloc leader MP Michel Aoun from the opposition March 8 camp.
Sources close to Speaker Nabih Berri told The Daily Star that the February 11 parliamentary session to elect the commander of the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF), General Michel Suleiman as president still stands in view of “encouraging signs” from Friday”s meeting.
Moussa, who had been expected due to leave Lebanon Friday night, decided to stay after meeting with Berri later that day, saying he would continue his mediation efforts. “The speaker convinced him to stay and told him that he had made considerable headway in the meeting and that he ought to continue these efforts,” the source said.
The majority had shown “flexibility” on the issue of a national unity government during the meeting, the source said. “If there is a major breakthrough tonight or tomorrow the next meeting could be held within 24 hours and enlarged to include other leaders and Speaker Berri as well,” the source added.
Quoting a source from Moussa”s entourage, AFP said his decision to stay was to give Berri a chance to contact “other opposition leaders” to help resolve sticking points over the formation of the new government. The Lebanese Broadcasting Corporation (LBC), which is close to March 14, said Aoun had gone beyond discussing distribution of ministers in a new Cabinet and stuck to his “basket of conditions,” even adding new terms.
LBC also reported that Hariri told Aoun and Moussa in the meeting that if the opposition agrees to a 13+10+7 distribution of Cabinet posts, giving the opposition 10 ministers and the president seven, “the election can take place tomorrow.”
Moussa said all parties had reaffirmed their commitment to electing Suleiman president. “There are points of agreement and points that need more discussion in a friendly mood and with a common desire to reach a solution,” Moussa told a news conference in Parliament Friday.
He described all points put forward for discussion on Friday as sensitive and requiring further discussion, describing talks as “serious and very significant.”
Moussa denied suggesting a 9+11+10 distribution in a new national unity government, which would see the president get the blocking third of 11 ministers, while the majority get 10 and the opposition nine.
“It”s a fabrication and completely false,” Moussa said.
“The tone of the discussions was sharp from all sides, I hope that it can go back to a tone everyone can understand,” the Arab League chief said of the ongoing political bickering, adding that in general verbal exchanges between rival camps had deteriorated and become rude and insulting.
“It is something we have to remedy,” he said.
Early Friday Moussa met separately with Aoun in Parliament. Aoun was quoted by the pro-opposition Al-Akhbar daily as being worried that Moussa”s mission “is to end the [Arab] initiative and [Moussa] wants a way out that would allow him to say that one party blocked the initiative, and he wants to pin the blame on the opposition.”
Berri received Friday in Ain al-Tineh MP Ghassan Tueni who left without any comment other than saying that “Speaker Berri is more optimistic.”
The United States has warned the Hizbullah-led opposition that it “will not stay hands tied” if the current political crisis in Lebanon continued, according to a report in the London-based Al-Hayat daily Friday. It said the warning was made in a letter delivered by US Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs David Welch to Moussa.
Moussa responded to the report during his news conference after the four-way meeting by denying the issue was ever discussed.
“We never spoke of this matter and the issue of internationalizing [the Lebanese crisis] did not enter into my discussion with Welch,” he said.
The paper quoted “well-informed sources” as saying that “Washington, given that it is a world superpower, will certainly do something; and internationalizing the crisis is one option.” The sources said Welch, during his meeting with Moussa in Cairo on Thursday, expressed strong resentment over the failure of the Lebanese Parliament to elect a president as well as the failure of the Lebanese to implement the Arab League initiative.
“The continuation of the Lebanese crisis is a source of concern for everybody in the region and overseas, particularly for the Lebanese themselves,” Welch said after meeting Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmad Abu al-Gheit.