BEIRUT (Reuters) - France’s foreign minister blamed unnamed parties on Monday for blocking a deal between feuding Lebanese leaders to agree on a compromise candidate for president, two days before a key parliamentary vote.
France has been pushing the anti-Syrian majority coalition and the opposition, led by pro-Syrian Hezbollah, towards picking a candidate from a list drafted by the patriarch of the Maronite Christian church to which Lebanese presidents must belong.
“Everybody was agreed (on the process). Everybody said they had agreed. Now I‘m amazed, France is amazed, that something is stuck, something is blocked, something is derailed, and I would like everyone to assume their responsibilities,” an angry Bernard Kouchner said after meeting majority leader Saad al-Hariri.
With pro-Syrian President Emile Lahoud’s term ending on November 23, parliament is due to elect a successor on November 21 but rival leaders have yet to agree a compromise candidate, making it more likely that Wednesday’s session would be postponed to Friday.
Kouchner, on his second visit to Lebanon in under a week, also met Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, an opposition leader, to try and avert a crisis that could saddle Lebanon with two rival governments and spark bloodshed.
“I would like to know who is not in agreement. I would like to know who has an interest in chaos, who has an interest in the elections not taking place, who has an interest in making it even more complicated for the life of all the Lebanese,” Kouchner said.
The presidency is the most contentious issue in a year-long political crisis in which the Hezbollah-led opposition has been locked in confrontation with the Western-backed government.
Kouchner said that even the Syrians had agreed on the French-proposed mechanism for choosing the president and added that those blocking the deal “will carry the responsibility for the destabilisation of Lebanon and its regional consequences”.
Berri has already postponed the presidential election three times because the anti-Syrian majority coalition and opposition leaders failed to agree on a candidate acceptable to both sides.
Berri and Hariri are holding meetings to choose from a list of compromise nominees drafted by Patriarch Nasrallah Sfeir.
But the talks seemed to hit a snag after rival Christian leaders failed to agree on any name, hampering progress made over the last week through intensive international mediation.
Kouchner later held out hope that there might be a president at the last minute. “I hope this initiative succeeds at the last moment ... we have two days in front of us, we’ll continue working,” he said after meeting Berri.
Kouchner met Michel Aoun, who heads the biggest Christian bloc in parliament and is the opposition’s only declared candidate, and Samir Geagea, a key Christian leader in the ruling coalition camp.
But Kouchner’s last-ditch attempt failed to produce any encouraging remarks from the Christian camp.
Aoun has insisted he fill the post and in a sign he was refusing to budge, said on Monday he would not accept that the will of Christians he represents “be broken”.
Geagea doubted Wednesday’s session would go through, saying: “The situation is very complicated and very difficult.”
The governing March 14 coalition wants a president who will back a trial of the suspects in the 2005 assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri, and work on disarming Hezbollah, the only group to keep its arms since the 1975-1990 civil war.
The anti-Syrian grouping has said it may elect a president on its own if there is no deal, while the opposition has threatened to set up a rival government.
Additional reporting by Alistair Lyon and Laila Bassam