Berri mocks White House for criticizing latest delay of presidential election

Posted in Broader Middle East | 12-Mar-08 | Author: Hussein Abdallah| Source: Daily Star

BEIRUT: Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri criticized the united States on Tuesday for condemning his recent decision to postpone a scheduled Parliament session to elect a new president to March 25. Berri accused the US of blocking all solutions to Lebanon's crisis. "How do you expect us to believe that you are concerned with seeing a new head of state in Lebanon after you openly said that you don't support the Arab initiative, which outlines a way out of the deadlock?" Berri asked in a statement, addressing the US.

"How do you expect us to believe you after you sent your warships to protect Israel and refused to condemn Israeli violations of Lebanese territory in the last UN Security Council meeting?" he added.

A Parliament session to elect Lebanon's president on Tuesday was postponed until March 25. It was the 16th time that a session of Parliament to elect a successor to Emile Lahoud has failed.

The White House condemned the latest delay as "unacceptable" and urged outside forces to stop meddling in the deadlocked political process, in a reference to Damascus.

Meanwhile, Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir said on Tuesday that Lebanon could be represented by Prime Minister Fouad Siniora at an upcoming Arab summit in Damascus if the logjam persists on electing a new president.

"We are keen on attending the summit at the highest level," he told reporters in Dubai at the end of a visit to the UAE. "We believe that the [Arab] nation is in need of a summit in the current circumstances ... There are several problems between many states and political tensions which necessitate that we sit together to clear the air."

The March 29-30 summit is being held amid tensions between Syria and other Arab countries over Damascus' role in Lebanon's political crisis.

Leaders of Saudi Arabia and some other Gulf states have reportedly threatened to stay away from the heads-of-state gathering unless Lebanon is invited, whether it has a new president or not.

"The brothers in the Gulf are conditioning their attendance to the presence of Lebanon ... We also are in favor of Lebanon's presence," Bashir said.

He said Siniora's Cabinet could represent Lebanon, which has been without a president since November amid disputes between the government and opposition.

"Even if there is no president in Lebanon ... there is a government that is recognized internationally ... As long as there is no president, the government can represent the country," he said.

Lebanon is the only Arab state yet to be invited to the Damascus summit.

Although Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Moallem has previously said that Lebanon will be invited to the summit, Syria is not likely to deliver a direct invitation to the Lebanese government in Beirut.

Earlier reports said the invitation might be handed over to Lebanon's representative in the Arab League, but Siniora said last week that the invitation should be officially delivered by a Syrian minister.

The Siniora Cabinet is deemed illegitimate by Damascus' allies in Lebanon.

Telecommunications Minister Marwan Hamadeh said Tuesday that Lebanon should not be invited to the summit through the Arab League, while March 14 Forces members MP Wael Bou Faour and former MP Fares Soueid called for boycotting the summit.

Meanwhile, parliamentary majority sources told the Central News Agency (CNA) on Tuesday that the Lebanese government will not accept to be invited to the summit through the Arab League.

"Such an invitation under-mines Lebanon's sovereignty," the sources said.

"There is an existing government which has assumed presidential powers due to the Parliament's failure to elect a new president. Syria should send an envoy to Beirut with an official invitation to be handed over to this government," they added.

MP Boutros Harb told LBC television on Tuesday that presidential powers are not in the hands of Siniora alone.

"It is the council of ministers which assumed presidential powers and not the prime minister," he said, adding that the Lebanese government must coordinate its participation in the summit with its Arab allies.

Meanwhile, opposition MP Ali Hassan Khalil told LBC that Lebanon should be represented by a Christian Maronite president at the summit.

"There is still hope that a new president will be elected ahead of the summit. Let us stick to that for now," he said. - With agencies