Talks between rival Lebanese factions intensify ahead of election deadline

Talks between rival Lebanese politicians intensified Sunday amid intense international pressure to break a deadlock over presidential elections a few days ahead of a planned vote in parliament. French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner, whose country is leading mediation efforts to reach consensus on a presidential candidate, was said to be returning to Beirut later Sunday to resume contacts with feuding Lebanese leaders. US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice telephoned US-backed Prime Minister Fuad Saniora and Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, who is aligned with the Syria-backed opposition. The state-run National News Agency quoted Rice as saying the US "supports electing a president that enjoys the support of all the Lebanese." Rice also called legislator Saad Hariri, who leads the anti-Syrian parliamentary majority in Lebanon, and Cardinal Sfeir, the head of the influential Maronite Catholic Church. Under Lebanon's political system, the president must be Maronite, the country's largest Christian sect.