Lebanese Forces leader Geagea resolved to continue dialogue with General Aoun

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Leader of the Lebanese Forces Samir Geagea at his residence in Maarab. Al-Akhbar/Marwan Tahtah

By: Hiyam Kossayfi

Published Monday, December 22, 2014

The visit by Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea to Saudi Arabia last week received a lot of political attention locally, given its timing and the level of meetings he held with Saudi officials, particularly since it coincided with visits by international envoys to Lebanon to discuss the issue of the presidential vacuum. Geagea’s visit to Saudi Arabia and his upcoming meeting with head of the Change and Reform bloc General Michel Aoun to discuss the presidency and other issues, were two key themes of Al-Akhbar’s interview with the Lebanese Forces leader. Below is the text of the interview.

Al-Akhbar: The high level of officials you met during your visit to Saudi Arabia was intriguing. What did the discussions focus on?

Samir Geagea: The discussions were broad and tackled a number of issues. We did not go into details, but talked about the affairs of the region as a whole. We spoke about the Lebanese situation for a long time, especially regarding what is happening along the eastern borders and the Saudi grant to the Lebanese army, whose timing was perfect. I had a question about the rapid reaction they had in support of the army. Their answer was that they had been following up on the events in Lebanon and realized that the army had the will but not the capabilities to carry out the missions entrusted to it. So they decided to help immediately through two grants. They are determined to deliver them as soon as possible.

Concerning the second issue, the presidency: This is something I discussed in the previous visit. Saudi Arabia’s logic is still the same: Either you, as Christians, agree on one candidate, after which we shall help with the endorsement of the nomination, bearing in mind that Saudi Arabia has great appreciation for the role of the Christians in Lebanon; or you [Christians] agree with the other factions over a consensus candidate.

AA: There were reports in Beirut that the Saudis proposed consensus candidates to you.

SG: This is not true, not in the last visit, nor during the one before it.

AA: If the Saudi positions are the same, then what is behind the timing of the visit and the high-level meetings? Is there a link to the recent regional movement and the visits by the French and Russian envoys, and today, the visit by the head of the Iranian Shura Council Ali Larijani to Beirut?

SG: No. This visit is part of the visits I make to the kingdom. I would like to thank here King Abdullah bin Abdel Aziz and the Saudi officials I met, Prince Sultan bin Abdel Aziz, Prince Mutab bin Abdullah, Prince Khalid bin Bandar, and Saudi Ambassador Ali Awad Asiri, for the special care they extended to me. Concerning the regional movement, my personal conclusion as a result of the talks with the Saudi officials is that all this regional movement now is much ado about nothing. There is nothing serious so far, bearing in mind that the French envoy was supposed to visit Tehran last week, but he postponed his visit. There is no new dynamic in Beirut and Syria. Iraq alone has seen some movement, but also at a very slow pace, except for some military operations taking place on the ground.

AA: What is the Saudi vision for the situation along the eastern border, especially after the expansion of ISIS there and the concerns regarding ISIS’ plans for Lebanon?

SG: Saudi Arabia is wholeheartedly supportive of Lebanese sovereignty. If any party tries to infiltrate Lebanon, Saudi Arabia would support the Lebanese government and the army, and not any particular faction. Saudi is with Lebanon’s stability and independence, and would do anything to preserve it. Saudi Arabia hopes that the elections will be held in Lebanon soon, and regrets that the election has not taken place yet.

AA: Concerning the situation in Syria, is there a shared concern that the Syrian situation would stay the same if Syrian President Bashar al-Assad were to remain in power?

SG: My own conclusion is that it is out of the question to resolve the crisis in Syria with Assad remaining in power. Even during my meetings with the Russian envoy Mikhail Bogdanov and Saudi officials, [I concluded that] the Russians are ready for some kind of solution in Syria, and no longer have an ideological position on what is happening there. But they want the Americans to show readiness for this solution and to discuss it with them. The Americans today are not selling, or buying, as we can see from the way the current US administration has been acting.

AA: You met with former Prime Minister Saad Hariri on the eve of the dialogue between the Future Movement and Hezbollah. What is on the agenda between them? What did the two of you discuss concerning the presidential election?

SG: I spoke with former Prime Minister Hariri about everything related to the presidential elections. Frankly, we discussed all the names in circulation. We did not come out with final decisions and we did not agree on anything in particular. But we discussed everything in detail, and all the qualities of the candidates and our assessments of them. Our assessments and opinions were not divergent. We had a wide-ranging discussion and we overviewed all options concerning the presidential issue.

AA: Did you reach conclusions or agreements?

SG: No, we are still deliberating. But even if we reach agreements or names, what would we be able to do with them as long as the other side continues to insist on its position? We discussed the names and evaluated them.

AA: What about the dialogue between Future and Hezbollah?

SG: We don’t know more than what we hear. Sunni-Shia dialogue is a necessity. Hariri tried many times to raise the subject of heating up the presidential election, and facilitating the election of a president, but it seems that Hezbollah has not responded. Of course, the issue has to do with General Michel Aoun. So far, the agenda includes necessary measures to ease Sunni-Shia tensions. for example, the security plan for the Bekaa Valley. The army has taken good security measures in Arsal and Tripoli, so why has the plan not been implemented in the Bekaa? The most important purpose of the dialogue is to reduce Sunni-Shia tensions. These tensions in Lebanon are not caused by the events in the region. This is one of the causes, but it was possible for that to remain contained and isolated. However, there are things that fuel the tension in Lebanon because of the practices of the authorities, which behave as though there is summer and winter under one roof. This is what the two sides want to discuss, in order to improve stability.

AA: There are signs of a serious dialogue between Hezbollah and Future. We have seen the tour by former President Gemayel in the south. Why does Hezbollah exclude the Lebanese Forces from the dialogue, even though there is significant tension between Hezbollah, and the Future and the Kataeb?

SG: Hezbollah has always sought to portray itself as a peaceful advocate of dialogue, and that it communicates with all rivals, but this is it. This image is only for show. I don’t believe these dialogues have led anywhere. Hezbollah is present in the government but it has many differences with its partners. Hezbollah moves without a [public] agenda. Hezbollah always excludes us from its contacts, because if there is nothing to discuss and nothing we can converge over, then we don’t participate, as the dialogue would have no results. We are open to all proposals, but Hezbollah has yet to put up any proposal for Lebanon to take even one step forward. As for Speaker Nabih Berri, there are communications between us, because there are practical issues we can talk about.

AA: Moving on to the meeting with General Michel Aoun. Will there be a meeting definitely? Has a date been set?

SG: A date has not been set but the intention is there. I have a strong intention for this. We, as the Lebanese Forces, are resolved to resume the dialogue on all topics, even if we don’t reach results. Dialogue between us will cover all issues, and not just the presidency. If we do not agree on this issue, then there are other issues up for discussion, and our views are not that divergent. The decision the Lebanese Forces have made is to continue the dialogue as broadly as possible, in an attempt to reach results on all the issues raised, or at least, on some of them.

AA: General Aoun said in his most recent interview with Al-Akhbar that he remains a candidate and would not concede to anyone. What will you talk about then? You said that you were prepared to do anything for the elections to be held.

SG: This is true; this is the position of General Aoun that we are informed of through negotiations. Nonetheless, we want to continue the dialogue. We believe that in the end, if Aoun sees that his nomination would lead him nowhere, he will not stick to it. Thus, we will give dialogue time and we will not tire easily, and will continue our discussions with him. My position is clear: We say to the general, if you have a chance then so be it. If not, then the post of president should not remain vacant with the elections on hold.

AA: As Maronite leaders, who is responsible for the vacancy in the presidential post? Particularly when there are reports that this situation could continue for many more months.

SG: The dialogue with General Aoun is so that the vacancy does not last long. As for who is responsible for the vacuum: It is those who refuse to attend the sessions in parliament. The parliamentary blocs blocking the quorum are responsible. The quorum in the constitution is meant not for obstructionism but for holding the election. Those who are obstructing the process are responsible.

AA: Bishop Samir Mazloum said that there was no use holding a meeting of Maronite leaders as long as each one is sticking to his position. Has it been proposed to you to hold a quadripartite meeting in Bkirki?

SG: Such proposals should be accurate. What does it mean that each one of us has stuck to his position? Should we change our position and boycott the election? Either there is a constitution and an electoral mechanism, or there aren’t. The second point: If we don’t meet in Bkirki or elsewhere, and do not appear in the media, then this does not mean that there are no contacts. On the contrary. Contacts continue between us all, Kataeb, Marada, and General Aroun. It was proposed to us to meet in Bkirki, but the contacts and communications among the four sides continue daily. A meeting more or a meeting less changes nothing.

AA: Do you have hopes that the elections will be held?

SG: The Lebanese Forces and I personally are making the necessary contacts to hold elections as soon as possible. I don’t know if we will agree, to be honest. But we believe that no person can continue to block the elections indefinitely. They will get to a time when they will see that obstruction gets them nowhere, and that the country is suffering [as a result].

AA: Do you so far see anything positive in the dialogue with Aoun?

SG: There are issues discussed other than the presidential elections. There are positive things in exchanging opinions and negotiations per se. We can resolve thorny problems when we get to them.

AA: At the security level, are you concerned by the situation at the borders and think it might deteriorate and spread inside the country? Or is there international keenness to protect Lebanon’s stability?

SG: It is not international care that is protecting Lebanon. The security situation is under control in the country because the major parties are in agreement over maintaining stability. There is also a consensus among all sides to confront all extremist groups in the country. However, this does not mean there won’t be attempts to carry out subversive acts like limited explosions and cells. Nevertheless, their impact remains limited, and I don’t believe that there is a threat to Lebanon’s stability in the foreseeable future. The army is deployed robustly and I am reassured about the situation on the eastern border.

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

Comments

It is Al Akhbar that is confused, by not asking him real questions, like, why should Christians receive half the seats in Parliament: what does that do to Christianity and what does it do to Lebanon?

Geaga's talk is totally empty. The guy seems totally confused.

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