Posted by Joshua on Thursday, December 20th, 2007
WASHINGTON, Dec 20 (AFP)
US President George W. Bush on Thursday ruled out direct talks with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, saying "my patience ran out on President Assad a long time ago."
"So if he's listening, he doesn't need a phone call, he knows exactly what my position is," Bush said at a year-end press conference after being asked whether he would talk to Assad to work on ending Lebanon's political crisis.
"My patience ran out on President Assad a long time ago, and the reason why is because he houses Hamas, he facilitates Hezbollah, suiciders go from his country into Iraq, and he destabilizes Lebanon," said Bush.
Addendum: Qabalan for Election of Maronite President by The People, Naharnet
Lebanon's highest Shiite cleric called Thursday for the election of a president either on a consensus base, or directly by the people.
Sheikh Abdul Amir Qabalan, deputy head of the Supreme Shiite Council, made the remark after holding telephone consultations with Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, Maronite Patriarch Nasrallah Sfeir, Free Patriotic Movement leader Michel Aoun and al-Mustaqbal Movement leader Saad Hariri, according to state-run National News Agency.
The presidential election, according to Qabalan, should be overwhelmed by "a spirit of consensus to find an exit out of the vicious circle."
"I am worried about the possibility of electing a president by simple majority, that is why I insist on a two-thirds quorum for the election session to safeguard the nation," Qabalan added.
"We want a consensus president and if direct election by the people is possible, then we support this option … and we do not object to having Maronite candidates so that the people can elect one of them as long as they have failed to agree among themselves," Qabalan added without further elaboration
Syria says working for end to Lebanon crisis
By Khaled Yacoub Oweis
Thu Dec 20, 2007 11:37am EST
DAMASCUS (Reuters) – Syria is working to help resolve Lebanon's presidential crisis, the foreign minister said on Thursday, responding to reports that France's patience was wearing thin with Damascus over a stalled presidential election.
In a rare session devoted to Lebanon with journalists, Walid al-Moualem said Syria wanted an election as soon as possible to fill the presidency, empty since November 23 when the term of pro-Syrian Emile Lahoud ended.
Mualem said the United States was obstructing a deal by ignoring the principle of consensus, not majority rule, as the main factor in Lebanon's sectarian political system.
"The American role in Lebanon should be sidelined because it is not balanced. Syria is playing a constructive role. We are facilitating a solution, but at the end the solution is a Lebanese one," Moualem said.
Foreign powers have historically had interests in Lebanon and the latest crisis has seen several countries intervening to reach a solution.
France has been leading efforts to mediate a settlement between the Western-backed governing coalition and the opposition, led by groups with close ties to Damascus. French officials have also intensified contacts with Syria.
Arab media on Wednesday quoted French President Nicolas Sarkozy as saying he expected action and not words from Damascus to allow the vote to succeed on Saturday.
Responding to questions about the reports, Moualem said: "We are keen to continue coordinating with France to reach a common goal of a consensus president in Lebanon and the formation of a national unity government."
Moualem said he was due later on Thursday to discuss Lebanon in a phone call with Claude Gueant, Sarkozy's chief of staff, who visited Damascus twice since November.
The election in parliament has been postponed nine times by differences between Lebanese leaders. The next parliamentary session has been scheduled for Saturday.
Acknowledging that Syria wields influence over its Lebanese allies, Moualem said Damascus was helping relay the demands of the Lebanese opposition on the composition of a new unity government to foreign mediators.
"Every day carries new opportunity to hold the presidential election, as long as consensus is achieved," he said.
"Syria does not exert pressure. It encourages and urges (its Lebanese allies)," Moualem said. "The position of the opposition groups is legitimate. They don't demand seats in the cabinet more than their share in parliament."
The camps have been unable to conclude a political deal expected to make army chief General Michel Suleiman president as there are differences over how to share seats in a new cabinet to be formed once he takes office.
(Writing by Tom Perry and Khaled Yacoub Oweis; Editing by Janet Lawrence)
The Hindu News gave a very different title to their coverage of the Mualem press conference:
Damascus (AP): Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Moallem criticized on Thursday the United States in the Lebanese presidential crisis, accusing it of allegedly blocking Syrian and French efforts to end the deadlock that has paralyzed Lebanon.
Moallem said Syria and France, whose foreign minister has been mediating among the Lebanese, both support the choice for Army Commander Michel Suleiman as a consensus presidential candidate the rival sides agreed on.
He claimed Damascus and Paris had also agreed that Suleiman's election in parliament should be followed by the formation of a national unity government.
Moallem said Welch's comments earlier in the week in Beirut “confirm that America does not support consensus and instead wants there to be a conqueror and vanquished in Lebanon.''
Moallem also dismissed Welch's accusations that Syria was the one blocking the Lebanese presidential election. “This is nonsense, he knows exactly who is blocking the election,'' he said of Welch.
“We in Syria want there to be elections in Lebanon at the earliest time possible,'' Moallem added.
The anti-Syrian ruling coalition in Lebanon has accused the opposition of obstructing the presidential vote under orders from Syria and Iran. In turn, the opposition claims pro-government groups in the parliament majority follow U.S. policies.
The opposition has demanded the ruling coalition agree on the shape of the future government ahead of the parliament vote, including the division of the posts in the next Cabinet. The ruling coalition says the opposition is setting conditions which are rejected by pro-government groups.
Moallem on Tuesday also backed those Lebanese opposition demands, saying a national unity government should be agreed on before Suleiman is voted in.
A unity government “is as important as electing a new president,'' Moallem said.
Al-Hayat quoted senior sources in the majority as saying Welch has outlined that Syrian President Bashar Assad "refuses to facilitate the election of a president in Lebanon."
Washington "gave Paris time to carry out a last attempt with Damascus, But French President Nicolas Sarkozy realized that his Syrian counterpart has not delivered on his promises and commitments and that Damascus is hiding behind its allies in the opposition by implying that they are not against electing Suleiman, but they have political demands related to the formation of the government" that should rule when a new head of state assumes power, Welch was quoted as saying.
He added that Washington "did not give up its role in Lebanon, but wanted to give Paris a chance and it appears that the French capital has found out that Damascus does not want any agreement and does not want to re-consider its stand."
Welch, by his unscheduled return to Beirut on Tuesday, wanted to "relay a message to Iran and Syria that Washington would not give them a free hand in Lebanon, especially that the presidential crisis is just a step in a long political march," the sources said.
Welch's message was that "the international community would not stand idly by regarding attempts to block the presidential elections and has steps capable of pressuring whoever is blocking the election," the sources added.
Washington, Welch said, "would back any steps taken by the majority to prevent continued void in the presidency," noting that Lebanon would be a topic of "special interest" during U.S. President George Bush's forthcoming tour in the Middle East.