The Daily Star – After meeting Lebanese Forces chief Samir Geagea in Riyadh Monday, a high-ranking Saudi official called for the swift election of a new president in Lebanon, according to a statement issued by Geagea’s office.
Saudi Deputy Crown Prince Muqrin bin Abdul-Aziz also pledged continued support to strengthen Lebanon’s stability and sovereignty.
Geagea arrived in Riyadh Sunday on an official visit for talks with senior Saudi officials on regional developments and the 6-month-old presidential stalemate. He is also expected to meet former Prime Minister Saad Hariri to discuss ways to end the vacancy in the country’s top Christian post.
Muqrin and Geagea reviewed “the political conditions in the region, including Iraq, Syria, Palestine and Lebanon, where the two sides agreed on the need to hold the Lebanese presidential election as soon as possible,” the statement said.
Muqrin assured the LF chief that “Saudi Arabia will continue its support for Lebanon in all steps that will boost its stability, sovereignty and the security of its people,” it added.
For his part, Geagea, who is on his second visit to the kingdom this year, thanked Saudi Arabia for its grants totaling $4 billion to purchase weapons “to bolster the Lebanese Army and enable it to confront terrorism and all the dangers threatening Lebanon.”
An LF source confirmed that Geagea would meet with Hariri to discuss, among other things, the presidential deadlock. Hariri has called for the election of a consensus president as the only way to break the deadlock.
LF MP Antoine Zahra said Geagea was discussing with Saudi officials the “regional circumstances that can help hold the presidential election.”
“Saudi Arabia does not interfere in the presidential election and we are not dragging it [to do so],” Zahra told MTV station.
Geagea’s visit comes as efforts have been stepped up to arrange a meeting between Geagea, the March 14-backed presidential candidate, and his arch-political foe, Free Patriotic Movement leader MP Michel Aoun, who is backed by the Hezbollah-led March 8 coalition for the presidency.
It also coincided with attempts to launch a long-awaited dialogue between the Future Movement and Hezbollah with the aim of facilitating the election of a president and defusing sectarian tensions fueled by the war in Syria.
On the eve of his Saudi visit, Geagea sounded pessimistic about electing a president in the near future.
“I don’t see a quick solution to the presidential crisis as long as Gen. Michel Aoun remains adamant on his stance: either he becomes president or no president,” Geagea said in an interview with the Jordanian newspaper Ad-Dustour published Monday. He did not deny his own presidential aspirations.
“I will continue to run for the presidency, even though I am not attached to [the decision], until I see an alternative or a solution for the presidential election,” he said.
Geagea reiterated his willingness to face off with Aoun in a presidential vote in Parliament.
“Lebanon should not be left with a presidential vacuum,” he said. “Either Aoun and I go to Parliament as presidential candidates … or let us sit together to agree on certain names to take to Parliament.”
The Kataeb Party called for the election of a president without foreign interference.
“The Kataeb Party renewed its firm stance on giving priority to an internal dialogue to find effective solutions to the current crises, at the forefront of which is the presidency, which has been suffering from vacancy for seven months,” the party said in a statement issued after its weekly meeting chaired by its leader Amine Gemayel.
It lamented Parliament’s failure for the 16th time last week to elect a president due to a lack of quorum and called for breaking the deadlock by “insisting on making the election a Lebanese affair through working to create a favorable climate for the presidential vote.”
Meanwhile, two Future MPs said the upcoming dialogue with Hezbollah would reduce sectarian tensions.
“Dialogue between the Future Movement and Hezbollah is a national necessity to cool off the situation, reduce tensions and find an opening in the presidency issue,” MP Ammar Houri said.
MP Hadi Hobeish said preparations were still underway to launch the Future-Hezbollah talks.
“The entire public opinion today supports the [Future-Hezbollah] dialogue because it will defuse tensions,” he told the Voice of Lebanon radio station.
Hezbollah MP Nawwaf Musawi praised the planned talks with the Future Movement.
“We are open positively to national dialogue, which leads to consolidating national unity and preventing divisions,” he told a memorial ceremony in south Lebanon