Top Hezbollah official blasts Bush, says Lebanon rejects his tutelage
The Lebanese presidential election moved to December 29 in the tenth such delay.
The militant Hezbollah group lashed out on Friday at U.S. President George W. Bush for urging Lebanon's anti-Syrian lawmakers to push through their own choice for president if need be to resolve the country's long political deadlock.
Later, a statement issued by Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri's office said he was postponing a session scheduled for Saturday to elect a new president until December 29 - making it the 10th such postponement since the first attempt to elect a new president in September.
Bush's comments a day earlier were the first time the U.S. leader urged such a step. The anti-Syrian bloc in Lebanon has avoided trying to use its slim majority in parliament to elect a president.
Doing so would inflame the confrontation with the opposition, led by Syria's ally Hezbollah. Hezbollah's deputy leader, Sheik Naim Kassem, said in a statement Friday that the American leader's orders will not be implemented in Lebanon.
"Bush still thinks he can bet again on achieving some gains for America and Israel in Lebanon, despite consecutive and accumulated failures in the region," Kassem said, apparently referring to U.S. policies in Iraq and Hezbollah's war last year with Israel.
Lebanon's divided politicians have been unable to elect a president since Emile Lahoud stepped down on November 23, leaving the post empty in a dangerous power vaccum. Each side - the U.S.-backed majority bloc and the Syrian-backed opposition - accuses the other's international patron of wrecking any deal.
Parliament had been scheduled Saturday to try again to start the process of electing army chief Michel Suleiman as president. But opposition leader Michel Aoun told reporters Friday that there will be no vote Saturday because there is no agreement and all dialogue lines are broken.
All sides have expressed support for Suleiman as a compromise president. But the choice has been held up by other considerations - particularly the opposition's demands that a unity government be formed giving them enough seats to veto major decisions. The lawmakers also have to pass a constitutional amendment, since the current rules bar a sitting army chief from becoming president.
The continued deadlock has also dealt a blow to hopes of a warming between the United States and Syria after Damascus participated in last month's Mideast peace conference in Annapolis, Md.
On Thursday, Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem, criticized the U.S. role in the presidential crisis, accusing Washington of allegedly blocking Syrian and French efforts to end the deadlock.
In a press conference Thursday, Bush called on Syria to stop interfering in Lebanon's politics and said that if the Lebanese parliament fails to meet a two-third quorum needed to elect a president, then the Western-backed majority lawmakers - known as the March 14 movement - should elect their own candidate.
"The March 14th Coalition can run their candidate and their parliament; majority plus one ought to determine who the president is. And when that happens, the world ought to embrace the president," Bush said.
"Syria needs to let the process in Lebanon work," Bush said, sharply rejecting any dialogue with Syrian President Bashar Assad.
"My patience ran out on President Assad a long time ago," Bush said. "And the reason why is, is because he houses Hamas, he facilitates Hezbollah, suiciders go from his country to Iraq, and he destabilizes Lebanon. And so, if he's listening, he doesn't need a phone call. He knows exactly what my position is."
The 128-seat legislature needs a two-thirds quorum to begin voting for president. The majority has 68 members and has to have the support of some opposition parties for the quorum. But parliament has attempted nine times to elect a president but failed to do so because the opposition is boycotting until a deal is reached.
The Hezbollah-led opposition maintains the vote for president would not be legal and would violate the constitution without the two-thirds quorum.
American President Bush announced the bad news and gave his direct orders to his group in Lebanon to violate the constitution, Kassem said. "At a time when the Lebanese are trying to reach an accord, he is trying to create problems between them."
"Bush, your orders will not be implemented and your tutelage is rejected," Kassim said. "Lebanon is not a farm that you can do whatever you want with it."
On a visit to Lebanon this week, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs David Welch accused the opposition of obstructing the vote for the country's top post by boycotting parliament sessions and setting conditions for the future government.
France has led international efforts to mediate between feuding Lebanese politicians.
President Nicolas Sarkozy said the French leader urged Assad in a recent phone call to facilitate elections in Lebanon, Sarzozy spokesman David Martinon said, without specifying when the call took place.
Martinon said Friday that France is looking to Saturday's scheduled parliament session as a new horizon.