Riyadh, Asharq Al-Awsat—Following local reports that rival Lebanese presidential hopefuls Michel Aoun and Samir Geagea are set to meet in January to seek a way to resolve the ongoing presidential vacuum in the country, Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to Lebanon affirmed that Riyadh is neutral toward both candidates.
In comments to Asharq Al-Awsat, Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to Lebanon, Ali Awad Asiri, said that Riyadh is committed to a policy of non-interference in Lebanese affairs, adding that Saudi Arabia encourages the country’s rival political blocs to work together to protect Lebanese security and stability.
Lebanese media reported that Geagea and Aoun are due to meet to discuss the ongoing political vacuum in the country. “Preliminary talks have come a long way . . . Discussions are now focused on setting a tentative date for the meeting, likely between January 2 and 3,” a political source told Lebanon’s Al-Joumhouria newspaper.
Lebanon has been without a president since former Lebanese president Michel Suleiman’s term in office ended in May 2014. The country’s parliament has been unable to come to a consensus on a successor, with the Hezbollah-led March 8 Alliance backing Michel Aoun and the Future Movement-led March 14 Alliance throwing its weight behind Samir Geagea.
A number of officials from both sides have endorsed the Aoun–Geagea talks, stressing the need to fill the position as soon as possible.
Commenting on Geagea’s most recent visit to Saudi Arabia, the Saudi ambassador described it as “consultative,” adding that it focused on the latest regional developments. Geagea visited Saudi Arabia earlier this month, during which he met with Deputy Crown Prince Muqrin Bin Abdulaziz.
“Saudi Arabia always stands by Lebanon,” the deputy Crown Prince said during the meeting. “We will continue to back Lebanon in all steps that seek to bolster the stability, sovereignty and security of its people.”
The latest development in the political saga comes days after Prime Minister Tammam Salam called on the people of Lebanon not to lose hope over the prospect of ending the more than seven-month presidential vacuum.
“I call on the Lebanese to be patient with us in dealing with this presidential vacuum that is negatively affecting the country,” he said in remarks published by Al-Mustaqbal newspaper on Sunday.