Hizbullah deputy leader blasts Bush

Says Lebanon won't obey his "orders"; presidential elections postponed for 10th time.

lebanese flags 224.88 (photo credit: AP [file])
lebanese flags 224.88
(photo credit: AP [file])
Hizbullah denounced US President George W. Bush for urging Lebanon's anti-Syrian lawmakers to push through their own choice for president if necessary to resolve a long political deadlock. Later, Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri's office said he was postponing a parliamentary session scheduled for Saturday to elect a new president until December 29. It was the 10th such postponement since the first attempt to elect a new president in September. The Western-backed, anti-Syrian bloc has avoided trying to use its slim majority in parliament to elect a president, which would escalate tensions with the opposition, led by Syrian-allied Hizbullah. Bush urged such a step for the first time Thursday. Hizbullah's deputy leader, Sheik Naim Kassem, said Bush's "orders" will not be implemented in Lebanon. "Bush still thinks he can bet again on achieving some gains for America and Israel in Lebanon, despite consecutive and accumulated failures in the region," Kassem said, apparently referring to US policies in Iraq and Hizbullah's war last year with Israel. At the United Nations in New York, US Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad said given the risks that the political stalemate presents, the Security Council "needs to be prepared to consider steps - additional steps to incentivize those who are responsible for the stalemate to change their stand." He did not elaborate on what steps the US had in mind, but they could include sanctions. Khalilzad said a minority in the opposition was "holding the situation hostage there and not allowing the constitutional process to go forward," adding that "some external players are also being unhelpful in this regard, particularly Syria." Lebanon's parliament has failed nine times to elect a president because the Hizbullah-led opposition has boycotted sessions, preventing a two-thirds quorum. The post has been empty since pro-Syrian President Emile Lahoud's term ended November 23. Lawmakers on both sides have agreed to back army commander Gen. Michel Suleiman as a compromise candidate, but parliament must first amend the constitution to allow the military chief to become president. But other considerations have complicated hopes for breakthrough, particularly the opposition's demands for a new unity government that would give it veto power over major decisions. The opposition refuses to recognize the legitimacy of Western-backed Prime Minister Fuad Saniora's government because its Shiite members resigned last year and the constitution requires that all sects be represented in the government. Opposition leader Michel Aoun told reporters there would be no vote Saturday "because there is no agreement and all dialogue lines are broken." The current ruling coalition is known as the March 14 group because it brought together leaders from a wide political spectrum in Lebanon for massive anti-Syrian demonstration in March 2005. Those protests, coupled with international pressure, forced Syria to withdraw its troops from Lebanon after a 29-year presence. The deadlock in Lebanon has deflated hopes of a warming between the US and Syria, which participated the Middle East peace conference last month in Annapolis, Md. On Thursday, Bush called on Syria to stop interfering in Lebanon's politics. He said that if the Lebanese parliament fails to get a quorum needed to elect a compromise president, the Western-backed majority should elect its own candidate. "The March 14th coalition can run their candidate and their parliament; majority plus one ought to determine who the president is. And when that happens, the world ought to embrace the president," Bush said. The Hizbullah-led opposition says choosing a president without a quorum would violate the constitution. Bush "gave his direct orders to his group in Lebanon to violate the constitution," Kassem said. "At a time when the Lebanese are trying to reach an accord, he is trying to create problems between them." "Bush, your orders will not be implemented and your tutelage is rejected," he said. "Lebanon is not a farm that you can do whatever you want with it." France has led international efforts to mediate between feuding Lebanese politicians. President Nicolas Sarkozy urged Syrian President Bashar Assad in a recent phone call to "facilitate" the election in Lebanon, said David Martinon, a spokesman for the French leader. France has accused Damascus of holding up the election, and the call appeared aimed at getting Syria to press its allies to compromise.