09/20/2023, 14.44
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UN, Vatican, the 'Group of Five' seeking ways to end Lebanon’s crisis

by Fady Noun

Pope Francis and President French Emmanuel Macron will meet next Sunday during the Mediterranean Meetings in Marseille. Qatar blames “personal interests" for the deadlock. Saudi Arabia’s renewed involvement ends its previous seeming standoffish policy.

Beirut (AsiaNews) – Is Lebanon's presidential crisis on its way to resolution? Everyone wants to believe it, but... Diplomatic circles are admittedly working overtime to find a compromise.

The Group of Five (United States, France, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Qatar) met on Tuesday in New York on the sidelines of the annual session of the UN General Assembly (attended by Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati).

The meeting had two goals: vet what had been achieved so far and set a roadmap for the country to implement IMF reforms, which Lebanon’s economic elites are reluctant to do.

Reports from the meeting are not encouraging, observers in Beirut say, as no press release followed. Efforts to reach a deal over Lebanon will continue this week in Rome.

Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin is in fact set to meet with ambassadors from the Group of Five to discuss Lebanon’s presidential vacancy to find practical solutions, Lebanon’s MTV television station reported, but no confirmation has come from Vatican diplomatic sources.

Along with this initiative by the Holy See in favour of Lebanon, Pope Francis will meet with French President Emmanuel Macron next Sunday during the Mediterranean Meetings (Rencontres Méditerranéennes) in Marseille. The two are expected to discuss Lebanon, sources at the Elysee Palace said.

Meanwhile, Qatar is said to be undertaking a still undefined initiative in Beirut. In New York yesterday, after the meeting of the Group of Five, the Emir of Qatar suggested that "political and personal interests" are still preventing an agreement on the presidential election.

Qatar is known to back the candidacy of General Joseph Aoun, commander-in-chief of the Lebanese Armed Forces, who, however, is vehemently opposed by Gebran Bassil, leader of the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM).

The Group of Five

In the summer 2022, Egypt, Qatar, France, Saudi Arabia and the United States established the Group of Five seeking a way out of Lebanon’s crisis.

Their first meeting was in September 2022 in New York, on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly. The group next met in Paris in February 2023. Their latest was in Doha (Qatar) on 17 July.

In Lebanon, some political parties believe that the time to elect a head of state has not yet arrived since security remains a major issue; for some, this bodes ill for any reconciliation.

In the Palestinian camp in Ein El Hilweh for example, while fighting has stopped, no real solution to what sparked it has been found, thus leaving the door open to more clashes. Many also fear the return of the Islamic State group (Daesh) and its sleeper cells at a time when large numbers of weapon-savvy young Syrians are illegally entering the country.

The Lebanese military does not share such pessimism. On condition of anonymity, some sources say that despite many time bombs in Lebanon, "the trend is not towards destabilisation". "On the contrary, the situation remains under control and all crises are eventually settled."

Nabih Berry, the Speaker of the Lebanese parliament, believes that Saudi Arabia’s involvement is an encouraging sign of a way out of the crisis, sources close to him say.

A meeting last week of almost all Sunni MPs took place at the residence of the Saudi ambassador to Lebanon, Walid Bukhari, along with the Mufti of the Republic Abdel Latif Derian and French envoy Yves Le Drian

The meeting was a first since last March’s Iranian-Saudi agreement, achieved through Chinese mediation. For people close to Berri, recent Saudi interest in the presidential election is a “good sign” compared to the kingdom’s previous standoffish attitude.

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