Moussa: Lebanon is in danger but there is still hope

Arab League chief in Beirut to call for election of army commander as president, formation of national unity government and adoption of new electoral law.

Amr Moussa 224.88 (photo credit: AP [file])
Amr Moussa 224.88
(photo credit: AP [file])
Lebanon is in danger but there is still hope, the head of the Arab League said Wednesday ahead of a new round of talks with feuding Lebanese factions over a new Arab plan to solve the country's deepening political crisis. Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa arrived in Beirut to present a plan, unanimously endorsed by Arab foreign ministers in Cairo on Saturday, calling for the election of army commander Gen. Michel Suleiman as president, the formation of a national unity government and the adoption of a new electoral law. "Lebanon is in danger but its salvation is possible. This is a Lebanese as well as an Arab responsibility in the first place," Moussa told reporters at Beirut airport before heading for talks with Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, who is aligned with the Syrian-backed opposition. Moussa struck an upbeat note about breaking the presidential election deadlock, now in its second month, stressing that the Arab initiative on Lebanon had won Arab, regional and international support. "We came (here) with optimism and hope. The (Arab) initiative is clear and we will begin work now because we have little time and we want to save the situation in Lebanon," he said. Syria, which has been accused by the United States and Lebanon's anti-Syrian parliamentary majority bloc of obstructing the presidential vote, promised on Wednesday to help ensure the success of Moussa's mission. "Arab efforts (to achieve) national reconciliation among Lebanese brothers is a real chance to overcome Lebanon's crisis which has led to a presidential vacuum and political escalation in Lebanon," Syrian Information Minister Mohsen Bilal said at a news conference in Damascus. But Bilal stressed that Syria will not exert pressure on its allies in the Lebanese opposition to accept the Arab plan. Jordan's King Abdullah II, for his part, welcomed the Arab plan on Wednesday in a Royal Palace statement. "The plan to solve the Lebanese crisis and to surmount the repercussions of the political vacuum is considered a step on the right track," Abdullah told visiting Western-backed Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Saniora who arrived in Amman earlier in the day. Lebanon's feuding politicians, including Saniora and Berri, have welcomed the Arab plan, expressing hope the initiative would help end the country's political crisis. Hizbullah, which is leading the opposition campaign against the Saniora government, has said it will deal positively with the Arab initiative. "We have welcomed the Arab initiative from the beginning. We are fully ready to discuss its details and facilitate its success," Hizbullah's deputy leader, Sheik Naim Kassem, said Wednesday. Later, Moussa described his meeting with Berri as "extremely useful, positive and encouraging," saying that the implementation of the Arab plan depended on the "political will" of Lebanese factions. He said he planned to stay in Lebanon until a solution to the crisis is reached. Moussa criticized the roadside bomb that targeted a United Nations vehicle south of Beirut Tuesday and hoped "it will not affect our efforts to contain and solve the crisis." Two UN peacekeepers were lightly wounded in the attack, the first on the expanded UN force in Lebanon since last summer, when six Spanish peacekeepers died when a bomb hit their armored personnel carrier in southern Lebanon. During his four-day visit, Moussa is set to hold talks with Suleiman, Saniora, Saad Hariri, head of the anti-Syrian parliamentary majority, and other politicians from both sides. In their statement Saturday, the Arab foreign ministers called on Lebanon to elect Suleiman by Jan. 27, then resolve the issues surrounding a national unity government. The ministers also said the new president should have the power to cast his vote to break ties in the Cabinet. Lebanon has been without a president since pro-Syrian President Emile Lahoud's term ended Nov. 23, plunging the country into the worst political crisis since the end of the 1975-90 civil war. The Saniora government has been locked for more than a year in a fierce power struggle with the Syrian-backed opposition led by Hizbullah. A parliamentary session to elect a new president was postponed for the 11th time on Dec. 28 with feuding factions deadlocked over the shape of a future government. A new parliament session has been set for Jan. 12. Lawmakers on both sides have agreed to back Suleiman as a compromise candidate, but parliament must first amend the constitution to allow a sitting military chief to become president. This process has been complicated by the opposition's demand for a new unity government that would give it veto power over major decisions. Opposition boycotts have thwarted attempts to choose a president by preventing a two-thirds quorum.