(photo credit: AP)
The foreign ministers of France, Italy and Spain were in Lebanon Saturday to try to prod rival Lebanese factions to agree on the election of a new president as an essential step toward breaking a months long political deadlock.
The visits by Bernard Kouchner of France, Massimo D'Alema of Italy and Miguel Angel Moratinos of Spain came three days before Lebanon's parliament was to make another attempt to select a new head of state in a deeply divisive election.
Kouchner stressed the need for a president to be elected with a consensus among Lebanon's major religious sects.
"I return to Lebanon to do what I can with my colleagues the foreign ministers of Italy and Spain so that the presidential election could be held on time and the new president could get the necessary minimum consensus among the sects," Kouchner told reporters after arriving at Beirut airport shortly late Friday.
The Italian and Spanish ministers arrived in Beirut early Saturday.
The visits by the European ministers came amid a flurry of diplomatic activity by foreign officials in Lebanon, reflecting mounting concerns that failure to elect a president could lead to a power vacuum, or possibly the creation of two rival governments - events that could threaten the mission of UN peacekeeping forces in southern Lebanon.
The Lebanese parliament failed to elect a president last month because of a boycott by the Hizbullah-led opposition that denied the legislature a quorum. Lawmakers have been unsuccessful so far in efforts to reach agreement on a consensus candidate between the anti-Syrian, pro-government camp and the opposition led by Hizbullah, which is backed by Syria and Iran.
The parliament has scheduled a session on Tuesday to try again to choose a successor to pro-Syria President Emile Lahoud, who steps down Nov. 24.
Many politicians from the two rival camps have expressed doubts that a new president could be elected Tuesday in the absence of an agreement by pro-government and opposition groups.