Posted by Joshua on Saturday, December 1st, 2007
According to good sources, the Lebanese government was blindsided at Annapolis with the candidacy of Michel Suleiman as President
As officials began to arrive at Annapolis and started circulating, E.U, and then Egyptian officials began to approach their Lebanese counterparts. “Congratulations on your new president,” they were informed.
The jaws of the Lebanese delegates dropped. It was the first any of them had heard of such news.
The Lebanese made their way to Secretary of State Rice to find out the truth of this breaking news. Secretary Rice played coy, claiming that the deal was the doing of the French and Egyptians. It was not clear to what extent she was on top of the latest deal making.
Kouchner is primary target of Lebanese contempt. They blame him for pulling the rug out from under them and fixing the deal behind their backs. It was their way of getting the Syrians to Annapolis. Egypt helped swing the deal. They had been in favor of Michel Suleiman from the start. The Saudis had fallen into line begrudgingly.
Faysal Miqdad, the Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister, was by all accounts very quite and subdued at the Annapolis meeting. He did not demand attention, but rather watched the proceedings with an air of satisfaction and anticipation. One reporter told me that the Syrian delegation was jubilant after it was over.
As one Lebanese said, “The French screwed us because they brought Syria to Annapolis. They decided the President of Lebanon without March 14.”
When asked what is wrong with Suleiman. I was told. “He is an unknown person to March 14.”
The Fouad Seniora government had wanted, in order of preference, the president to be
- Nassib Lahoud
- Butros Harb
Evidently, Saad Hariri had not been so much asked as told by the French that Michel Suleiman was to be given the go ahead to become president.
He caved to the French pressure because he has been faced with growing complaints from the Christians that the Sunnis are taking too much power. Hariri has been accused of hurting the Christians by allowing the presidency to remain weak. They are worried that Hariri will allow it to remain vacant now that Lahoud has gone.
The March 14 position of insisting that the president be elected by the parliament based on a vote from 50% of the deputies plus-one collapsed when Cardinal Sfeir announced that he would not accept this.
SO HOW DO WE EXPLAIN THIS?
Why would France want Syria at Annapolis so much? Why would Washington allow itself to be dragged along? What about Saudi Arabia and Israeli?
At this point I enter into the land of speculation. The above part of this story seems fairly well sourced and I trust it.
What follows is what some well placed Lebanese believe. I do not believe that the US can or will attack Iran, but many Lebanese do. It is how they explain what happened at Annapolis. This is what was told to me. The anxiety that Lebanon will be cut loose and sold down the river by the US and France is palpable.
"It is all about Iran," my informant explained to me.
The Lebanese feel certain that the US is planning to hit Iran this summer.
France and Israel do not want the Assad regime to fall. They do not want Syria to get sucked into a conflict. If Iran is going to get hit, they do not want the radicals to be able to move. This means getting Syria safely off the Iran ship before it goes down. Syria had to be "flipped," no matter the price.
Kind Abdullah of Saudi Arabia called Bashar al-Assad to warn him that “this was his last chance” and that he had to find a safe port to weather the storm. “You have to move over to the Arab camp now.” The Saudis went along with the Michel Suleiman request begrudgingly.
Turkey also played an important role in bringing the Syrians on board. P.M. Erdoghan called Bashar four times.
One Lebanese said, “When you hear Israeli P.M. Olmert saying such nice things to the Palestinians it is to shut them up so that should Iran get hit, the Middle East does not blow up. It is not because he wants to be nice to Palestinians.”
“This is what the French have done.” I was told. “The hit on Iran is going to come at the expense of March 14. This is the only reason the French and Egyptians are doing this. They feel certain that Iran is going to get hit.”
“This is to get Syria out of Iran’s orbit. Israel does not want Bashar to fall. They pushed to get Assad to Annapolis. They do not want anything to lead to war with Syria or the toppling of the regime, which would only multiply chaos in the region. France shares Israel's concern about Syria. The Sarkozy presidency is with Israel. It is different now than it was under Chirac when Lebanon was a primary concern for France and Hariri had a good understanding with the president."
When I asked if the Michel Suleiman would become President and if his candidacy could get through the steps needed. I was told:
"Iran wants a “faragh” or vacuum in Lebanon. Any president will be bad for Iran, because he will act as a restraint on Hizbullah. Thus, acting on Iran's orders, Hizbullah will not let a president be elected.”
There is another explanation for the story of Annapolis and why the Syrians have been brought in from the cold by the Israelis and France. It is that the French have lost confidence in the March 14th government and believe that a compromise president for Lebanon, even at the price of amending the constitution, is better than enduring with no president at all. Israel does not feel that it can make a deal with the divided Palestinians and prefers to see what headway is possible with Syria, which is a state and has a leader who is in control, can deliver, and says he wants a deal.
[I will be in Chicago over the weekend, giving a talk Sunday at 12:30 at the Syrian-American Congress with Samir 'Aita. It will be held at the South West Marriot Hotel in Burr Ridge.]