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Plan for Lebanon Wins Support

January 10, 2008 by  


By Mohamed Abdellah, Reuters

CAIRO–Arab governments approved on Sunday an Arab plan to end the constitutional crisis in Lebanon and diplomatic sources said it had support from both Syria on one side and the Lebanese parliamentary majority on the other.

But members of Hezbollah, the Shi’ite group at the heart of the Lebanese opposition, gave a more cautious response to the plan, which says a national unity government should be formed in such a way that no one party can impose or block any decision.

Lebanon has not had a president since November 23, initially because of disagreements over who should hold the post, more recently over the details of a new national unity cabinet.

The plan, approved by Arab foreign ministers meeting at the Arab League in Cairo, endorses the choice of army chief General Michel Suleiman as the next president of Lebanon and says that he should be the arbiter in any contested decisions.

The leader of the Lebanese parliamentary majority, Saad al-Hariri, welcomed the plan. “The declaration by the Arab foreign ministers presents the Lebanese with a new chance to elect a consensus president and fill the presidency,” he said.

“All Lebanese should … treat the results of the Cairo meeting as an achievement… We still bet on opening a new page, and commit to the Arab roadmap towards electing General Michel Suleiman as president,” he added in a statement.

But Hezbollah member of parliament Hussein Haj-Hassan told the Hezbollah television station al-Manar the opposition wanted clarifications on some aspects of the next government.

Mohammad Raad, the head of Hezbollah’s parliamentary bloc, said the movement would wait to see what follows the Arab ministerial meeting. “We don’t want to be pessimistic or block the route to any productive decision, especially in a complicated matter like the Lebanese issue,” he added.

Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem told reporters a solution in Lebanon was up the Lebanese. “I hope that our Lebanese brothers will think hard before reacting while they wait for the secretary general of the Arab League to arrive to hear from him the Arab point of view,” he added.

But Arab diplomatic sources said Syria, the main foreign power behind the Lebanese opposition, had agreed to the plan, even if it does not overtly give the opposition veto power.

In return the draft does not attack Syria and it enhances the role of General Suleiman, who is widely seen as sympathetic to Syrian interests in Lebanon.

Lebanese officials said Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa will visit Beirut this week to push through a deal.

The wrangling over the Lebanese presidency has been seen as part of a proxy conflict between Syria and Iran on one side and the United States and its Arab and European friends on the other.

All the main parties have accepted Suleiman as the compromise candidate for the presidency but his election could not go ahead until they agreed other details of a complete package, including the structure of the next government.

The Lebanese parliament is set to try for a 12th time to confirm Suleiman as president on January 12 but until the Arab ministers came up with their plan it looked unlikely to succeed.

The plan says the election of Suleiman as president should take place immediately, along with immediate agreement to form a national unity government “such that the composition does not allow any decision to be imposed or blocked by any one party.” “The President of the Republic should have the final say (in case of disagreement),” it adds.

After the election of the president and the formation of a government, work should start on drafting a new law governing parliamentary elections, it says.

Moualem said the United States was obstructing consensus in Lebanon, both through words and deeds. He did not elaborate.

(Writing by Jonathan Wright, additional reporting by Nadim Ladki in Beirut, editing by Sami Aboudi)

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