France’s special presidential envoy to Lebanon Jean-Yves Le Drian continued his third tour of the country, attempting to persuade political powers of the need to join dialogue to help them overcome the impasse over the presidential elections.
He stressed during his meetings with Lebanese officials on Wednesday that dialogue was the only way to end the crisis.
Not everyone was on board with his plan, with opposition MPs sticking to their demand for parliament to hold successive elections until a president is elected.
On Wednesday, Le Drian met with head of the Loyalty to the Resistance (Hezbollah) bloc MP Mohammed Raad to discuss the “French initiative aimed at holding dialogue between the Lebanese parties over the presidency.”
Le Drian said parliament Speaker Nabih Berri’s call for dialogue is in line with the initiative, according to a statement from Hezbollah’s media relations office.
For his part, Raad underlined the importance of dialogue and communication between the Lebanese because it is the only way to end the crisis over the presidency.
Le Drian met in Beirut with former MP Walid Jumblatt and his son, head of the Progressive Socialist Party and MP Taymur Jumblatt.
After the talks, Walid voiced his support for Berri and Le Drian’s calls for dialogue.
Asked by reporters if he had discussed with the French official potential presidential candidates, he replied: “We did not delve into names. Don’t make me get involved in this.”
At the French ambassador’s Snoubar residence, Le Drian welcomed a delegation of Change MPs. MP Yassine Yassine told Asharq Al-Awsat that “there is no clarity to the envoy’s dialogue plan.”
“We have our reservations and fears over the dialogue because it is unclear what it will be based upon, what will be discussed, who will be invited to take part and who will lead the talks,” he added, while also raising questions about the legality of the dialogue.
“We want to know what we will be talking about: the name of the president? The crises that have led to the erosion of the state? Does the other team want to build the state?”
“We want the election of a president who can carry out reforms and handle the crises. We want the constitution to be implemented,” he urged.
“We don’t want the election of a president who is part of the political system that was in power after the withdrawal of Syrian troops from Lebanon,” Yassine said, noting that one such prominent candidate is under American sanctions.
“We want a president who can steer the transitional period that was created after the October 17, 2019, protests,” he continued, revealing that Le Drian “agreed with our position, but he is trying to bridge the divide between parties to help end the presidential vacuum.”
Le Drian later met with Renewal bloc MPs Michel Mouawad and Fuad Makhzoumi. He then met with Kataeb party leader MP Sami Gemayel, who said: “We informed him of our position on the crisis. Our main message is that we believe that the state institutions and democratic system are being held hostage by [Hezbollah’s] force of arms.”
Elections and other state affairs will continue to be undermined as long as this situation persists, he warned.
Hezbollah, he said, continues to use its weapons to make threats, intimidate others and turn against state institutions, the country and democracy.
“This is why we are appealing to friendly countries to realize this situation and help Lebanon free itself,” he urged, while saying the victim and the executioner should not be lumped together.
“Surrendering to Hezbollah must not be the price to pay for the election of a president. This will never happen, not now, not tomorrow and never in a hundred years,” he declared.
Le Drian had kicked off his latest tour in Lebanon on Tuesday by meeting Berri, caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati, head of the Free Patriotic Movement MP Gebran Bassil, Marada Movement leader and presidential candidate MP Suleiman Franjieh and army commander Joseph Aoun.
The envoy will conclude his visit on Friday, said spokesperson for the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs Anne-Claire Legendre.
“We hope the Lebanese leaders realize that it has become urgent for them to take action,” she stressed, revealing that Le Drian was “coordinating” with partners in the region.