Geagea: Dialogue with Hezbollah, its Allies Is a Waste of Time

He told Asharq Al-Awsat that the election of a president similar to Aoun means endlessly prolonging the Lebanese crisis.

Head of the Lebanese Forces Samir Geagea. (Lebanese Forces)
Head of the Lebanese Forces Samir Geagea. (Lebanese Forces)

Geagea: Dialogue with Hezbollah, its Allies Is a Waste of Time

Head of the Lebanese Forces Samir Geagea. (Lebanese Forces)
Head of the Lebanese Forces Samir Geagea. (Lebanese Forces)

Head of the Lebanese Forces Samir Geagea usually prefers to remain optimistic, in contrast to the dreariness in Lebanon that is grappling with an unprecedented economic crisis.

The situation has also worsened with the country plunging in presidential vacuum with rival political forces failing to elect a successor to Michel Aoun and with questions being raised about the legitimacy of the caretaker government.

“We need to double efforts to end the crisis,” Geagea told Asharq Al-Awsat.

He said his main concern now lies in easing the social suffering that has hit the weakest segments of society the hardest and also ensuring the election of a president that will effectively mark the beginning of the road to salvation.

However, Geagea believes that the election of a president to simply fill a vacancy is not the right way to resolve the crisis.

He stressed that Lebanon needs a president who would be different than Aoun.

Choosing one who is just like him will only endlessly prolong the crisis, he warned.

Rather, the election of a competent president would bring hope to Lebanon, he noted.

Geagea openly holds Hezbollah and its allies responsible for the crises plaguing the country, and therefore, he sees no point in holding dialogue with them.

“We believe that the other party, meaning the ‘resistance axis’, is the reason why we are here today. We cannot hold dialogue over ending the crisis with the parties that caused it,” he explained.

Moreover, he remarked that even the daily practices of this camp bode ill for Lebanon. He elaborated by saying: “Since the eruption of the crisis three years ago, the other camp boasted the majority in parliament and the government. Did it do anything to address the crisis? Did it cease the heinous practices it was committing? In both cases, the answer is no.”

Caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati had a vision over how to partially ease the electricity crisis, but the other camp prevented him from doing anything.

Asked if he is hopeful about the election of a president, Geagea said: “We have not reached a dead end. There are 15 lawmakers who have positioned themselves in the center. Some have voted for candidates who have no chance of becoming president and others have submitted blank votes.”

“We, as an opposition group, have openly declared that we want the election of a president who can kick off the recovery process and contribute to it. We don’t want a president who is just there to fill a vacuum. We want a president who can help in the required recovery process,” he urged.

“We hope the others realize the need for this,” he said.

Geagea said he was willing relinquish the LF’s candidate for the presidency and Michel Moawad was willing to abandon his run if there was a “convincing alternative who enjoys the desired qualifications and can garner the most votes.”

On the LF’s support for holding the presidential elections with two thirds quorum at parliament and its differences with Maronite Patriarch Beshara al-Rai who called on Sunday for the regular quorum to be adopted, Geagea said there is no dispute because “we have not taken a final decision over the issue.”

“This issue is being proposed at the wrong time. What’s the point of bringing it up right now?” he continued.

“This issue had never been brought up before the resistance axis came to power in Lebanon. It is being raised to obstruct the elections, not resolve it,” he added.

“In the past, parliamentary blocs used to respect themselves and the people who voted for them. They used to go to parliament and elect a new president even if they had not secured the majority that they needed,” he remarked, noting how Suleiman Franjieh was elected president in 1970 with only a one vote margin over his nearest rival.

“The MPs need to show enough dignity and honor to show up at parliament and hold the elections,” said Geagea.

“The withdrawal of one MP from the electoral session is understandable, so is the withdrawal of a bloc, but it is shameful for the elections to be obstructed every time when their candidate doesn’t have the highest chance of winning,” he stressed.

He acknowledged that the LF did it “once or twice or even more” just so it could influence the positions of other blocs, “but we never refrained from showing up to elections like others are deliberately doing in order to make rivals yield to their demands.”

At this, Geagea was critical of Speaker Nabih Berri whom he said should ensure that work is maintained at the only functioning constitutional institution.

He should therefore, call on the heads of blocs that are refraining from showing up at the polls to be present at the electoral sessions.

“The resistance axis is obstructing the elections and it is not doing so in wait of an international settlement,” he charged.

During the first elections session, Hezbollah wanted the election of Suleiman Franjieh as president, but it did not have enough support for the candidate, so it has resorted to obstructing the polls until head of the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) MP Gebran Bassil has a change of heart, “which I believe will be very unlikely.”

“What sort of logic is this? If no consensus is available, then there is no need to show up at elections?” wondered Geagea.

“Whoever wants consensus must speak to other parties and propose their candidate and qualifications. The consensus they are after is for us to support the Hezbollah candidate, which is impossible for us and mad for them to envisage,” he declared.

“Until further notice, the only hope lies in the 65 MPs, excluding the resistance axis,” he said, while expressing his disappointment in some MPs who chose to play a centrist role.

Geagea stressed that it was “impossible” to reach an understanding with Hezbollah and the FPM. “We have seen their practices and know their true colors.”

“Even after the country collapsed, they still hold the same positions and carry out their same old practices that cannot yield solutions to the crises. They have not derived any lessons from what has happened,” he went on to say.

“I am not waiting for anything from them, but will look to the other MPs who are not part of the resistance axis,” he revealed.

“We are working tirelessly every day to persuade various MPs, but it is a very challenging task,” he admitted.

“Hezbollah has its own major project that is rooted in religion, history and geography, and therefore, it wants to hold dialogue to impose its conditions. That is why we will not talk to them because it is a waste of time when we don’t have a minute to spare,” he stated.

Fakhri Karim: I Conveyed Talabani’s Advice to Assad on Terrorists

Fakhri Karim (Asharq Al-Awsat)
Fakhri Karim (Asharq Al-Awsat)

Fakhri Karim: I Conveyed Talabani’s Advice to Assad on Terrorists

Fakhri Karim (Asharq Al-Awsat)
Fakhri Karim (Asharq Al-Awsat)

The late Iraqi President, Jalal Talabani, excelled at delivering messages subtly. In private meetings, he spoke more freely than in public statements or interviews. His chief advisor, Fakhri Karim, often joined these discussions.

Luncheons were lavish, showing Talabani's respect for different opinions, though he rarely followed doctors’ advice.

Talabani believed that Iranian leaders were smart and hoped they wouldn’t try to control Baghdad from Tehran, citing the failed attempt to manage Beirut from Damascus.

He noted that Iraq’s independent spirit makes it hard for the country to follow the US, Iran, or Türkiye. Talabani also admitted giving refuge to 80 Iraqi officers who had fought against Iran, after they were targeted by certain groups.

Talabani praised Syria’s late President Hafez al-Assad for his invaluable support, providing accommodation and passports.

Speaking to Asharq Al-Awsat, Karim revealed he had warned President Bashar al-Assad, on behalf of Talabani, that militants allowed into Iraq to fight US forces might later turn against Syria.

This, Karim noted, did happen.

After the Israeli invasion of Beirut in 1982, Karim relocated to Damascus. There, he expanded his Al-Mada organization, focusing on publishing, translation, and organizing book fairs, alongside his political activities.

This allowed him to build relationships with top civilian and military officials.

In 2000, after Bashar al-Assad came to power, he met with Karim.

“I felt Assad was eager to listen, especially given my connections with many intellectuals,” recalled Karim.

“I told him dissenting voices exist but are mostly positive. You talk about modernization and renewal; this is a chance for some openness, even in elections,” Karim said he told Assad.

“Do you think anyone could really compete with you, given your position as the Baath Party's leader with all its resources?” Karim questioned.

Karim then discussed the situation of Syrian Kurds with Assad, noting that many lack identification papers, even basic travel documents. He also mentioned seeing historic Kurdish areas in the Khabur region with their names changed to Arabic, which causes sensitivities.

“I am not satisfied with this situation. Rest assured, this issue is on my agenda, and you will hear positive news about it,” Karim cited Assad as saying at the time.

In a later meeting, after the change in Iraq, Karim met Assad several times.

On one occasion, Karim recalls conveying Talabani’s greetings and concerns about armed fighters moving into Iraq and the dangers this posed to both Iraq and possibly Syria.

“We have deployed large forces to secure the borders, but what can we do? There are tribes and smugglers,” Assad complained about the situation.

“I told President Assad that as Fakhri Karim, I couldn’t share with the Americans what I know. I assured him that terrorists enter Iraq from a specific location I’m familiar with, not from all borders,” Karim recounted to Asharq Al-Awsat.

“I also noted that Syria tightly controls its airspace, shooting down any foreign aircraft,” he added.

Assad then responded to Karim and said: “We’re prepared, let us know what we can do.”

In reality, Damascus was worried because there were reports suggesting that Syria’s Baath regime could be the next target for the US army at its borders. Additionally, Damascus was concerned about the sectarian divisions—Shiite, Sunni, and Kurdish—in dealing with Iraq and the potential impact on Syria.

Repairing Kurdish Relations

Karim has spent years working on repairing the relationship between Kurdish leaders Talabani and Masoud Barzani.

This history began with the split that gave rise to the ‘Patriotic Union of Kurdistan’ from the ‘Kurdistan Democratic Party.’

Despite bloody conflicts and external meddling, Karim believes Kurdish leaders unify in the face of danger to their people and region, a pattern he expects to continue.

Karim believes that the Kurdish leadership, symbolized by Masoud Barzani and Jalal Talabani, made a big mistake at the beginning by focusing only on regional issues, ignoring Baghdad’s affairs.

He thinks they should have aimed for a federal democratic system that respects citizenship rights.

Karim pointed out that without a unified Iraq, the region’s rights would be uncertain. He also criticized the Shiite-Kurdish alliance, which he sees as odd.

Additionally, he mentioned mistakes in failing to unify regional institutions and increasing corruption, with party interests often trumping competence in appointments.

Asked about the personal bond between Talabani and Barzani, Karim said: “Both have moved past their tough history, but they haven’t done enough for the future.”

“I want to highlight an act by Barzani that shows his character. When Talabani was sick, Barzani made it clear to anyone thinking of harming Talabani or his family that there would be consequences,” he revealed.

“This isn’t hearsay, it’s firsthand,” affirmed Karim.

“Barzani also refused to discuss the presidency or a successor during Talabani’s illness. I personally organized a gathering for Talabani’s family, where Barzani reassured them, ‘I’m here for you, I’m family.’ His words moved everyone, showing a strong emotional connection,” he added.

When asked about Barzani’s character, Karim said: “He's been a long-time friend, and our relationship has been politically aligned and personally warm from the start.”

“I see him as a loyal friend, and he's shown that loyalty on multiple occasions. He’s smart, decisive, and listens carefully, often changing his mind after thorough consideration,” he noted.

“Once Barzani commits to something, he finds it hard to go back on his word. There was a moment during negotiations with Saddam Hussein when he stood firm despite my advice to reconsider,” recalled Karim.

Regarding the aftermath of the independence referendum, Karim believes that the negative turn in the political landscape began during Nouri al-Maliki’s tenure.

Al-Maliki’s attempts to shift alliances and his refusal to compromise exacerbated tensions.

The referendum itself wasn’t the problem; rather, it was exploited by some to punish the Kurdistan Region.

However, Karim emphasized that holding referendums is a citizen’s right, and the purpose of the Kurdistan referendum was to affirm this right, not to declare independence.