French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner tried Tuesday to achieve a breakthrough in Lebanon's political crisis, asking Maronite Patriarch Nasrallah Sfeir for a list of presidential candidates and criticizing Hizbullah leader Hassan Nasrallah for opposing the election track.
After talks in Beirut, Kouchner said he was cautiously optimistic about chances to end the deadlock and hoped to return to Lebanon next Monday after visits to Israel and the Palestinian territories over the weekend. Parliament speaker Nabih Berri has already postponed three sessions for MPs to elect a successor to Emile Lahoud, and there are fears a last-ditch parliament session set for Nov. 21 could also end in failure.
In addition to meeting with Sfeir, Kouchner held talks with Prime Minister Fouad Saniora, Berri, parliamentary majority leader Saad Hariri and a number of other politicians. According to AFP, Kouchner said he has asked Sfeir to prepare a list of candidates backed by all the sects as well as by the opposition and the majority and "the patriarch did not reject."
He slammed Hizbullah leader Hassan Nasrallah, without mentioning him by name, by expressing "regret for hearing threatening statements made two days ago indicating that the option of electing a president is not the best track." On his part, Hariri stressed that Lebanon is going through "tough times" and that "certain voices (Nasrallah) do not want elections, but with the French efforts and the honest determination by the March 14 Forces I am confident that we would be able to elect a president."
Kouchner told reporters after his first meeting with the patriarch that France is "deeply committed" to helping Lebanon break its political deadlock. "I have come to offer his beatitude France's support," he said.
"I have a slight leaning, a very slight leaning, towards being optimistic," he said.
Meanwhile, U.N. chief Ban ki-moon has picked a Canadian, Daniel Bellemare, to replace Belgian prosecutor Serge Brammertz as head of the U.N. probe into the 2005 murder of Lebanese ex-premier Rafiq Hariri. In a letter sent to the U.N. Security Council, the secretary general, said Bellemare, until recently Canada's deputy Attorney General, would take over from Brammertz, who has just been to nominated to be the new chief prosecutor at the International Criminal Tribunal for former Yugoslavia (ICTY).
Ban thanked Brammertz, whose mandate expires on December 31, "for his leadership in advancing the investigation and for his commitment to assisting the Lebanese government and people in bringing and to impunity in their country."
He said the 55-year-old Bellemare, who retired from Canada's department of justice and public service last September 29, would start his official duties as chief investigator in the Hariri probe "at a later date."
Bellemare's appointment is expected to be endorsed by the 15-member Security Council.
Last July, Brammertz released an interim report indicating that investigators had identified several people who may have been involved in Hariri's assassination.