BEIRUT, Lebanon, (AP) – The head of the Arab League said Saturday that he was leaving Lebanon after failing to get the country’s feuding politicians to agree on a plan to elect a new president and end the deepening political crisis.
After four days of talks, Amr Moussa said the situation in Lebanon was still “serious” and promised to return to Beirut in the next few days to continue his discussions with members of the Western-backed government and pro-Syrian opposition.
“I don’t want to give a dose of optimism, nor to describe the situation as pessimistic,” said Moussa. “There is still hope as long as we are working.”
The Arab League secretary general arrived in Beirut on Wednesday to discuss ways of implementing a plan unanimously endorsed by Arab foreign ministers last week calling for the election of army commander Gen. Michel Suleiman as president, the formation of a national unity government and the adoption of a new election law.
Many hoped Syria’s willingness to back the statement would soften demands by the opposition — led by the Syrian-backed militant group Hezbollah — that it receive Cabinet veto power before allowing Suleiman to be elected.
However, Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, who is aligned with the opposition, postponed the presidential vote for a 12th time on Friday as the election deadlock entered its second month.
Saad Hariri, the leader of the parliamentary majority, said Saturday that Lebanon was going through “a very difficult and dangerous stage” and urged the opposition to help facilitate the presidential vote.
“The Arab initiative is very clear. What is important is to begin implementing it by electing a president because this election is the basis of the entire initiative,” legislator Saad Hariri said in an interview with Kuwait Television.
Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak warned Saturday that Arab countries would not be able to help Lebanon unless the country’s feuding factions reached a compromise to end the current crisis.
“What is left now is the Arab initiative, and if the (Lebanese) do not make it succeed, then I predict a dangerous situation for Lebanon, for (countries) surrounding Lebanon and for the region at large,” said Mubarak.
Lebanon has been without a president since pro-Syrian President Emile Lahoud’s term ended Nov. 23, plunging the country into the worst political crisis since the end of the 1975-90 civil war.
The government of Prime Minister Fuad Saniora has been locked for more than a year in a fierce power struggle with the opposition led by the militant Hezbollah group.
Though both sides have backed Suleiman, they remain deadlocked over an amendment to Lebanon’s constitution that would allow the head of the military to become president. They also have not been able to agree an opposition demand that it receive veto power in the government over major issues.
Many of Lebanon’s feuding politicians, including Saniora and Berri, have welcomed the Arab plan, expressing hope that it would help end the crisis. Hezbollah has reacted more cautiously, saying it was willing to fully discuss the plan’s details.
In their statement last week, the Arab foreign ministers called on Lebanon to elect Suleiman by Jan. 27, then resolve the issues surrounding a national unity government. The ministers also said the new president should have the power to cast his vote to break ties in the Cabinet.