March 31, 2009 Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 499

Syria and the Lebanese Opposition Against Lebanese President Michel Suleiman

March 31, 2009 | By H. Varulkar*
Syria, Lebanon | Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 499

In recent months, Syria and the Hizbullah-led Lebanese opposition have sought to undermine the position of Lebanese President Michel Suleiman, who was elected May 25, 2008. Suleiman's election was part of the Doha agreement, signed May 21, 2008, which settled the political and military confrontation in Lebanon with a victory for the opposition.

The campaign to undermine Suleiman comprised the following political moves:

A. In early December 2008, senior Lebanese opposition leader Michel Aoun, chairman of the Change and Reform bloc in the Lebanese parliament, visited Syria, where he received an official welcome that surpassed even that given to the Lebanese president on his 2008 visit to this country. During his visit, Aoun met with senior Syrian officials, participated in religious ceremonies organized in his honor, and was greeted enthusiastically by the Syrian public. This visit aroused concerns, both in Lebanon and outside it, that Syria was trying to promote Michel Aoun over Lebanese President Michel Suleiman, both as the most prominent Christian leader and as Syria's ally in Lebanon.

B. During the war in Gaza, and in light of the escalating intra-Arab conflict, Suleiman was forced to decide whether to attend the Arab emergency summit convened by Syria and Qatar in Doha, to which Egypt and Saudi Arabia strongly objected. Suleiman realized that his decision would be interpreted as support for either the Iran-Syria-Qatar-Hamas-Hizbullah axis or for the axis of moderate Arab countries. Following considerable pressure by the Hizbullah-led Lebanese opposition, Suleiman capitulated and agreed to attend the summit of the extremist regimes.

C. During the past several weeks, Suleiman has been attacked by the Lebanese opposition for his intention to form a bloc to represent him in the next parliament. Once again, he has been forced to bend to the will of the opposition and to announce that he would not be supporting any candidate in the upcoming elections and would have no representatives in parliament.

The attempts to weaken Suleiman's position were accompanied by hostile statements, made both during a Hizbullah-organized demonstration against him and in scathing articles that appeared in the Lebanese dailies affiliated with the opposition and the Syrian regime. Thus, the Lebanese daily Al-Akhbar contended that "Michel Suleiman has nearly crossed the red line," and that "he is gradually losing his strong cards."

Following are excerpts from articles published in the Lebanese press regarding the campaign against Suleiman:

Suleiman's Policy of Commitment to Neutrality

The conflict between the political sides over the questions of who would replace former Lebanese president Emile Lahoud, and how he would be chosen, began even before his term in office ended September 2007. The Hizbullah-led Lebanese opposition had nominated several presidential candidates, the most prominent of them Michel Aoun, and the March 14 Forces had nominated three candidates of their own.

In early December 2007, since the political crisis in Lebanon had not abated and the sides had not been able to reach an agreement, the March 14 Forces announced that they would withdraw their candidates and, instead, support Lebanese Army Chief of Staff General Michel Suleiman, whose candidacy had initially been put forward by the opposition. Now, however, the opposition did not seem too eager to elect Suleiman, and continued to set preconditions that would thwart his election. [1]

Nevertheless, following the understandings reached as part of the May 2008 Doha agreement, Suleiman was elected Lebanese president.

As chief of staff, Suleiman had made a point of refraining from making statements revealing his political inclinations. Similarly, since assuming office he has striven to present himself as a president agreed upon by everyone, who held a neutral position and did not identify politically with any of the sides. This is also how he was perceived by the Lebanese political camps, none of which have ever accused him of inclining towards any of the sides.

Nevertheless, some claimed that the fact that Suleiman had initially been promoted by the opposition, and that his appointment had been authorized at the Doha summit under Syria's mediation, was in itself proof that he supported the policy of the Lebanese opposition and Syria - or, at the very least, had done so in the past. This claim is bolstered by Suleiman's statements praising the Lebanese resistance and encouraging Lebanon's ties with Syria. [2] However, even if in his position on central political issues, such as Lebanese-Syrian relations or Hizbullah's weapons, Suleiman has indeed inclined towards Syria and the Lebanese opposition, his opinions have always been acceptable to the March 14 Forces, and have never been openly contested by them.

It appears, however, that lately Suleiman's professions of neutrality have failed to satisfy Syria and the Hizbullah-led Lebanese opposition, which seem to have come to resent Suleiman's policy of "walking a tightrope," and stated explicitly that "he can not remain neutral any longer," [3] and that they wanted him to provide unambiguous proof that he was on their side.

To this end, Syria and Hizbullah have joined forces in an attempt to weaken Suleiman's status. Syria is pursuing this aim through supporting Michel Aoun and strengthening his position as both a Christian leader and Syria's ally in Lebanon, while Hizbullah seeks to undermine Suleiman's power and authority more directly, e.g., by putting pressure on him and by holding demonstrations and launching media attacks against him, as well as by weakening his political influence in the parliament.

A. Syria Promotes Aoun at Suleiman's Expense

In early December 2008, Lebanese opposition leader Michel Aoun went to Syria on a five-day visit, where he was accorded an official reception with every mark of warmth and respect. Aoun was also lavishly praised by senior Syrian officials and by the Syrian media, which described him as a "Lebanese national leader," "pan-Arab nationalist," and "strategic leader." [4] In Lebanon and outside it, Aoun's visit and the warm welcome he received in Syria came under fire, and apprehensions were voiced that Syria was trying to harm the status of Lebanese President Michel Suleiman, and even to promote Aoun, as both the most prominent Christian leader and Syria's ally in Lebanon.

Al-Sharq Al-Awsat: Syria Is Forging an Alliance with Aoun, Hizbullah, and Amal in order to Displace Suleiman

Editor-in-chief of the London daily Al-Sharq Al-Awsat Tariq Alhomayed contended in a December 6, 2008 article that Syria was trying to diminish Lebanese President Michel Suleiman: "The reception given to Aoun in Damascus, where he received the holy Koran and where he was given all sorts of ludicrous names and titles… is only part of a [broader] picture.

"The Lebanese president realized - even though he is not in a position to admit this - that the Syrians and their allies in Lebanon are marginalizing the importance and influence that the Lebanese presidency has recently gained... We are currently witnessing an obvious alliance between Syria and [Lebanese parliamentary speaker] Nabih Berri, and it seems that [the Lebanese] chief of staff, [who has recently met with Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad], will join it as well, and so will Michel Aoun and Hizbullah… Simply put, this alliance is tantamount to laying siege to Michel Suleiman, as well as [an attempt] to end his term of office and to draw away the international support that he has had as a president agreed upon by everyone.

"It is not in Damascus's interest that a Lebanese president should command the respect and support of the international [community]… This is why Damascus has been trying to maintain its hold on Lebanon through [its] allies and militias [there, i.e. Hizbullah,] rather than through legitimate authority [i.e. the president]… We must [therefore] conclude that, at the moment, it is important to safeguard [the institution of] presidency in Lebanon by [monitoring] the political process [there], and also to ensure the personal safety of the Lebanese president. Indeed, there is every indication that an alliance is currently being formed in Lebanon aiming to displace the Lebanese president…" [5]

Columnist Bshara Sharbal wrote in a similar vein on the Lebanese website "From the intentionally exaggerated [media coverage] of the welcome given Michel Aoun [in Damascus] as both a politician and a 'messiah'… President Suleiman may have understood that Damascus had in fact conveyed to him a message of love and appreciation, which reads as follows: '[Although] we did receive you [Suleiman here in Syria in the past], it is [Michel Aoun] who is [Syria's] favorite and beloved son…' By conferring [on Michel Aoun] this kind of welcome, Syria as good as put down in writing that it was Aoun it [preferred, as] a new and valuable addition [to the political parties] with which it maintains excellent relations, instead of opting for healthy ties with the legitimate [Lebanese] [government]. President [Suleiman] did not forget that Aoun was formerly a presidential candidate and had always striven for the presidency, and that he was the head of the largest Christian bloc [in the Lebanese parliament]. Accordingly, [Suleiman] must certainly see this welcome [given to Aoun] - [especially since it occurred] in the beginning of his term in office - as a gesture incompatible with Syria's pledge and [promises] to exchange ambassadors [with Lebanon]…

"The inescapable conclusion is that Damascus is continuing its strategy of strengthening ties with powerful elements [inside] Lebanon which are aligned with it as a political and security axis, thereby dismissing… Lebanon's vision of its relations [with Syria], ignoring the national unity government endorsed by the Doha accords, and marginalizing a president whose name is Michel Suleiman… This visit harmed the foundations of the [Lebanese] republic…" [6]

Al-Mustaqbal: "Michel Suleiman Is In Syria's Crosshairs"

Columnist Nusair Al-As'ad wrote in the Lebanese daily Al-Mustaqbal: "President Michel Suleiman and the presidency as an institution are both in Syria's crosshairs. It is an incontrovertible fact that Lebanon is currently facing another of Syria's attempts to annex and subjugate it, as well as to take control of its decision-making process. This attempt is manifested in several ways… In addition to the ties [Syria maintains] with Lebanese institutions, it has connections [with elements inside Lebanon] which come at the expense of the [Lebanese] institutions and the state [itself]. If we consider General Michel Aoun's visit to Syria… we can conclude that there are indications of Syria's interference in [the internal affairs] of Lebanon and attempts to harm it… During the past several days, facts and information have surfaced that are sufficient proof that the Syrian regime has unequivocally declared its intentions to harm the president and presidency as an institute - while Michel Aoun is only a tool [for realizing this plan]…" [7]

B. The Lebanese Opposition Threatens Suleiman, Compels Him to Take Part in DohaSummit

During the Gaza war, Lebanese President Michel Suleiman faced the dilemma of whether to participate in the summit convened by Syria and Qatar in Doha, which Egypt and Saudi Arabia opposed. His presence at the summit would have been seen as an expression of support for the Iran-Syria-Qatar-Hizbullah-Hamas axis, and his absence as an expression of support for the moderate Saudi-Egyptian axis.

On January 15, 2009, the Lebanese media reported that Suleiman had decided to attend the summit, but only if it was convened according to the legal quorum set out in Arab League regulations - that is, by at least two thirds of the member states. According to the Lebanese daily Al-Akhbar, Suleiman told his critics from the opposition that "he would not participate in a summit that would exacerbate the intra-Arab rift." [8]

Suleiman's decision triggered a wave of protest from the Lebanese opposition. On January 16, 2009, the first day of the Doha summit, opposition-affiliated dailies reported that certain opposition leaders had spent the day pressuring Suleiman to change his mind - among them Al-Hajj Hussein Khalil, political advisor to Hizbullah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah and MP 'Ali Hassan Khalil, the representative of parliamentary speaker Nabih Berri, and as well as former Lebanese president Emil Lahoud, former prime minister Salim Al-Hos, Marda faction chairman Suleiman Faranjia, and Change and Reform Bloc chairman Michel 'Aoun. [9]

Nasrallah and Berri to Suleiman: Your Absence from the DohaSummit Will Be Read as Siding with Those Who Are Against the Palestinians

According to Al-Akhbar, representatives of Nasrallah and Berri expressed the "clear stance of major forces within the opposition," telling Suleiman that "if he did not attend the summit, it would be seen as [indicating his] inclination towards the side that is currently opposing the Palestinians." The daily added that the head of the Lebanese General Security Apparatus General Wafiq Jizzini had been in contact with senior opposition leaders, especially with Berri and with the Hizbullah leadership, in order "to prevent a blowup..." [10]

The Lebanese daily Al-Safir reported on January 16 that Nasrallah and Berri "had been in contact [with Suleiman] all day through his advisors," and that on January 14 they had conveyed messages to him, in which they "expressed their hope that Lebanon would accept Qatar's invitation..." Suleiman replied that "there are two large Arab countries [namely Egypt and Saudi Arabia] to be considered," to which Nasrallah and Berri responded, "There are other large countries to be considered as well [meaning Syria]..." Representatives of Berri and Nasrallah told Suleiman that he should attend the Doha summit even if it were convened without a legal quorum.

Al-Safir further stated: "Following a lengthy exchange between the representatives of Nasrallah and Berri, on the one hand, and President Suleiman, on the other, it was decided to hold further consultations between the two sides. The president assessed the positions [of various forces] within the [Lebanese] domestic arena, and held consultations throughout the day... at the end of which he announced his decision [to attend the summit]..." [11]

Protesters at Hizbullah Demonstration: "Suleiman Is an American"

While its senior officials exerted pressure on Suleiman, the Hizbullah-led opposition organized a student demonstration in front of the U.S. Embassy in Beirut, during which there were calls against Suleiman. The Lebanese daily Al-Nahar reported that hundreds of students who had been bused in to the area waved Lebanese and Palestinian flags, as well as flags of Amal, Hizbullah and other Lebanese opposition parties. They called on Suleiman to "not relinquish the [Palestinian] cause," and even chanted, "Emil Lahoud, we want to return to your era." According to the daily, the slogans and chants were dictated by Hizbullah activists. [12]

Columnist Ghassan Sa'ud wrote in the daily Al-Akhbar: "For the first time in its history, Hizbullah has organized a sit-in against the position of the Lebanese president. In the protest in front of the American embassy, there were far more people calling out slogans against the president than there were people calling out slogans against the Americans. Some of the students called out "American, American, Michel Suleiman is an American..." [13]

Oppositionist Lebanese Daily: Suleiman Nearly Crossed the Red Line

Veteran columnist Ibrahim Al-Amin, chairman of the pro-Syrian and pro-opposition Lebanese daily Al-Akhbar, wrote under the title "Suleiman Nearly Crossed the Red Line and [Blew Up] the Doha Summit": "President Michel Suleiman has agreed to come to Doha. He will be among the Arab presidents who have agreed to come to Qatar in order to express a position that differs - however slightly - from the official Arab stances that have been heard since the start of the aggression against Gaza... Some will say that [Suleiman's] correction of his [initial] mistake [i.e. not to go] is a merit, and that he was right to reverse his [initial] decision. But the important point is that this is an issue that must be addressed as part of the internal Lebanese settlement. When Suleiman uneasily evoked the Arab League Charter [which states that an emergency summit must be convened by at least two thirds of the member states]... he took a stance that will not easily fade from the memory of the Lebanese majority, even if, in the future, will be praised by many as guarding of the [Lebanese] national unity and the Arab unity... Did Suleiman mean to endorse the position of the March 14 Forces...? The important point is that in this issue, which is directly linked to the struggle with Israel, Suleiman cannot remain neutral..." [14]

The opposition's criticism of Suleiman did not abate following his decision to attend the summit, since the opposition disapproved of the relatively moderate views he expressed during his speech there - such as his reservations about Assad's declaration that the Arab peace initiative was "dead." Ibrahim Al-Amin wrote: "President Suleiman's speech was out of line. He painted a picture [that does not accurately] depict the Lebanon that waged a war of resistance against Israel and defeated it many times. He painted a picture that does not strengthen Lebanon, which is facing threats, [including] the possibility of another escapade launched against it by the Hebrew state. Suleiman looked as if he was being forced to attend [the summit]. The expressions he used suggest that he was trying to avoid angering [certain] Arab states, as well as the Western countries and the March 14 Forces in Lebanon..." [15]

Al-Mustaqbal: Hizbullah Wants a President Who Will Obey Its Directives

Nusair Al-As'ad wrote in the Lebanese daily Al-Mustaqbal: "Today, it is not difficult [for us] to see yet again that the opposition, and especially Hizbullah, never wanted Michel Suleiman in the Ba'abda palace to begin with, and moreover, never regarded him as a president agreed upon [by all the Lebanese factions]. There are [only] two models that would satisfy the opposition, and especially Hizbullah: the model of Emil Lahoud as president, and the model of Michel 'Aoun as a [Syrian] Maronite ally. The Lahoudian model [is to their liking] because, both as an army commander and as president, Lahoud demonstrated how a high-ranking state official can serve as a functionary of a neighboring state [namely Syria], and also as a functionary of [Hizbullah's] state [within a state, which exists right] within Lebanon's borders. The model of Michel 'Aoun as a Maronite ally [is to their liking] because he has demonstrated how a politician can completely [forget] his identity, surroundings and history, in a way that serves his ally [namely Hizbullah], and enable [this ally] to defeat the state, the law, and democracy. This, in return for a promise to be appointed president - a promise that will never [even] be fulfilled. The calls heard in one of the opposition's recent demonstrations, some of which called to 'bring back Lahoud and his era,' simply reflect the [opposition's] yearning for a president who does anything he is bidden, without hesitation or objection...

"The opposition, and especially Hizbullah, are displeased that Suleiman went to Doha, since they were displeased with what he said there... The president came to Doha, [that symbol of] division, only to voice a message of unity... It seems that the opposition, and especially Hizbullah, wanted Suleiman to decree that Lebanon belongs, and is loyal, to the Iranian axis, which is dividing the Arab world... [By attacking Suleiman], the opposition, and especially Hizbullah, tried to compensate for the failure [of Hamas in Gaza], and at the same time to steer Lebanon away from its principles. This, as part of a plan, which is no longer secret, to take over the country by force and intimidation... [According to this plan], it is necessary to compensate for the failure of the Hamas regime by [establishing] a new regime in Lebanon... It would not be an exaggeration to say that this attack [on Suleiman] is intended, at the very least, to frighten him, defeat him and bend him [to the will of the opposition, and if possible,] to harm him, and overthrow him in favor of a new 'regime.' This means that the opposition, and especially Hizbullah, still believe that they can subject the country to another armed coup and to another power-struggle!" [16]

Journalist Ayman Sharouf wrote in Al-Mustaqbal: "The self-proclaimed nationalists have launched an organized attack on President Michel Suleiman, even though since his arrival at the Ba'abda palace, [Suleiman], the agreed-upon president, has been trying to mediate between the [various] Lebanese [factions]... Suleiman objects to Lebanon becoming an arena for threats to its security and stability. Since the Gaza [offensive began], and calls for an emergency summit in Doha were first heard, he has been constantly trying to make the wise decision... That is [precisely] what annoyed some of 'those who hold a grudge [against him],' and those 'professional nationalists' who demonstrated in front of the American embassy and whose ugly cries besmirched [the honor of] the president and the presidency... It seems that some [Lebanese] did not like it, and still do not like it, that Lebanon has a strong president who prefers the supreme interest of Lebanon over the interests of a certain faction or party [namely Hizbullah], which sees every detail in Lebanon's domestic politics from the perspective of its affiliation to a foreign [force, namely Iran]… Those are the motivations behind the attack on Suleiman, which some have characterized as a 'desperate attempt' to influence... his positions..." [17]

C. Opposition Pressure Forces Suleiman to Give Up His Plan to Form a Parliamentary Bloc

Lebanese President Michel Suleiman was once again forced to give in to the opposition when he came under attack for seeking to form a parliamentary bloc.

Suleiman: There Is Nothing to Prevent Independent MPs from Supporting the President

Suleiman stated as early as September 2008 that he wished to form a bloc of independent MPs to represent him in parliament. In his first media interview as Lebanese president, given to Lebanese Journalists Union head Muhammad Al-Ba'lbaki and to Journalists Association president Melhem Karam, Suleiman hinted at the possibility that there might be a bloc representing him in the next parliament. He stated: "In Lebanon, the president, by virtue of his position, is forbidden to take sides in [politics]. However, there is nothing to prevent independent MPs from supporting the president. This does not mean that the president will choose them, but only that they will be elected as independent [candidates] and will stand by the president's side in making crucial decisions. The president need not interfere with the elections, but he can rally several independent [Parliament members] to his side…" [18]

Six weeks later, Suleiman reiterated his position. Asked if there was a plan to form a parliamentary bloc [to represent him], he replied that he did not intend to get involved in political campaigning, and added: "I am a president agreed upon by the entire state, but this does not preclude the existence of independent [MPs]. They do not have to be part of an alliance, but they must look after the national interest. I do not need a parliamentary bloc, but rather a national bloc - one whose decisions will benefit the national interest and that will support the homeland rather than the president." [19]

Veteran Christian MP Michel Al-Murr, who for the past several weeks has been trying to form an independent parliamentary bloc, stated: "Some call [this bloc] 'the center bloc,' but it is actually an independent bloc… Its platform will be founded on the legitimate state and the army. [We put] our faith in these [institutions]. Why should it be considered shameful to support the president and the state?..." [20]

The Opposition: The Independent Bloc Is Affiliated with the March 14 Forces

Michel Aoun criticized the center bloc, saying that it was another name "for the Christian [bloc within] the March 14th forces." He added: "One who wants to define himself as 'part of the center bloc' must persevere [in becoming one] for at least 10 months, in order for us to accept him in this new capacity - one should not be able to join the center bloc overnight." Aoun further stated: "Any faction that is not with us is against us. We run in the elections in order to win, and we are not afraid of anyone..." [21]

An article in the Lebanese daily Al-Akhbar also contended that the Independent bloc was affiliated with the March 14 Forces: "MP Michel Al-Murr did not wait long to translate his agreements with Sa'd Al-Hariri into political action. Less than 24 hours after his visit to [the Al-Hariri residence]… he publicized a position which, according to his associates, had been closely coordinated with Al-Hariri… Al-Hariri had put Al-Murr at ease [by assuring him] that he was prepared to force the March 14 Forces, and especially their Christians [members], to [support Al-Murr's] plan…" The article further stated that the aim of this bloc was to reduce Michel Aoun's Christian representation in the Parliament. [22]

Al-Akhbar: Suleiman Is Losing His Strong Cards

The opposition-affiliated Lebanese daily Al-Akhbar published an article claiming that Suleiman would be making a mistake and losing his cards if he failed to support Michel Al-Murr's center bloc: "Will President Suleiman repeat the mistake of his predecessor Emil Lahoud? This question is pondered by many political circles affiliated with the parliamentary minority [i.e., the opposition]… They believe that Lahoud's problem lay in the team of advisors that surrounded him [who were mostly members of the Al-Murr family]…

"Knowledgeable sources have repeatedly stated that the Syrians have informed President [Suleiman] that they were not favor of the center bloc, since they were not willing to weaken their most powerful Christian ally [Aoun]. Hizbullah's position on this issue is clear - it will not turn its back on its allies either… Thus, President [Suleiman] has found himself alone in the arena, under the protection of [MP] Michel Al-Murr and his granddaughter Naila Tweini [daughter of anti-Syrian journalist Jubran Tweini, who was assassinated in December 2006]… The only certainty is that President Suleiman will again deliberate [over whether or not to support the center bloc], just as he debated whether to attend the Doha [summit] - this time, however, he is losing his strong cards, one by one…" [23]

Suleiman Has Reversed His Position: "There Won't Be Any Candidates of Mine in the Presidential Elections"

Following the opposition's attack on the independent bloc, reports appeared quoting Suleiman to the effect that he had abandoned his previously held position. The Lebanese daily Al-Safir quoted individuals who had met with Suleiman as saying: "[Suleiman] has never told anyone to run for Parliament, nor will he ever tell anyone to do so; neither did he authorize anyone to speak on his behalf. If anyone wishes to call himself 'a member of the center bloc,' this is his affair, and he is free to do so. [Suleiman also] emphasized that none of his candidates were [in the current parliament]…" [24]

As a reaction to these statements, the Hizbullah website and Al-Akhbar hastened to announce that Michel Suleiman had "relinquished the center bloc." [25]

Columnist Ghassan Sa'ud wrote in Al-Akhbar: "It was expected that Michel Aoun would be the one worst hit by the announcement of the emergence of the center… It seems, however, that the dog has turned on its master… Very quickly, both of [Michel Al-Murr's] closest allies, along with those who are at the opposite end, repudiated [him]. Suleiman then rushed to meet with Al-Murr's brother-in-law… and before the eyes of those who expected to hear [from him] words of encouragement, he shook Al-Murr's hand, and, ostensibly, emphatically denied that he was involved in this issue… He stressed that he did not intend to endorse a candidate. Suleiman's associates maintain that he will adhere to this position until June 7 [the date of the parliamentary elections], and will not adopt any position that might render him a side in the political conflict - even though he did, in fact, support Al-Murr's aims in one way or another…" [26]

*H. Varulkar is a research fellow at MEMRI.


[1] The opposition demanded that a general understanding be reached, even before Suleiman was elected president, regarding several key issues, including the distribution of portfolios in the future government and the government's guidelines. In January 2008, some in the opposition even stated that they had no faith in Suleiman and that he was not an agreed-upon candidate, proposing other candidates in his stead.

[2] In an interview with the French journal Express, Suleiman said that Hizbullah could not be defined as a terrorist organization. He stressed that Hizbullah, a Lebanese party, had produced the national resistance movement which had liberated South Lebanon from the Israeli occupation, adding: "I do not think that one who defends his land and sovereignty and reclaims it from [the hands of] the occupation can be characterized as a terrorist." On another occasion, he said: "The resistance is a source of pride and national strength for Lebanon."

Suleiman has also taken a pro-Syrian stance on the question of Lebanese-Syrian relations. While the March 14 Forces want a comprehensive regulation of these ties, including the establishment of diplomatic relations and of embassies, Suleiman has concurred in Syria's evasive position, stating that such measures are unnecessary since relations between the two countries are good. On the other hand, in a meeting with French President Nicolas Sarkozy at the periphery of the 2008 Mediterranean Summit, Suleiman told Sarkozy that "Lebanon would like [to establish] the best possible diplomatic relations with Syria," and that he was "constantly in touch with [Syrian President] Bashar Al-Assad on this issue." Then again, in a press conference, he said that Lebanon's relations with Syria were "natural and [required] no normalization." Al-Hayat (London), July 12, 2008; Al-Mustaqbal (Lebanon), July 11, 2008; Al-Mustaqbal (Lebanon), July 13, 2008.

However, although Suleiman did claim that Hizbullah was not a terrorist organization, it is important to understand that the March 14 Forces themselves have never dared to define Hizbullah as a 'terrorist organization,' and would most likely reject this label. Furthermore, the March 14 Forces have never denied the achievements of the Lebanese resistance, which were manifested primarily in the liberation of South Lebanon from what was termed "the Israeli occupation" in May 2000. While Suleiman, for his part, did acknowledge the achievements of the resistance, it is important to understand that he has never stated explicitly that Hizbullah was entitled to keep its weapons or that this issue was not subject to discussion.

[3] Al-Akhbar (Lebanon), January 16, 2009.

[4] Al-Watan (Syria), Al-Akhbar (Lebanon), December 4, 2008.

[5] Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), December 6, 2008.

[6], December 6, 2008.

[7] Al-Mustaqbal (Lebanon), December 11, 2008.

[8] Al-Akhbar (Lebanon), January 15, 2009.

[9] Al-Akhbar (Lebanon), January 16, 2009. It should be noted that Nasrallah's deputy, Na'im Qassem, as well as Nabih Berri and Suleiman himself, all categorically denied the reports about pressures exerted on Suleiman by the opposition.

[10] Al-Akhbar (Lebanon), January 16, 2009.

[11] Al-Safir (Lebanon), January 16, 2009.

[12] Al-Nahar (Lebanon), January 16, 2009.

[13] Al-Akhbar (Lebanon), January 17, 2009.

[14] Al-Akhbar (Lebanon), January 16, 2009.

[15] Al-Akhbar (Lebanon), January 17, 2009.

[16] Al-Mustaqbal (Lebanon), January 18, 2009.

[17] Al-Mustaqbal (Lebanon), January 16, 2009.

[18] Al-Akhbar (Lebanon), September 4, 2008.

[19] Al-Mustaqbal (Lebanon), October 24, 2008.

[20] Al-Safir (Lebanon), January 23, 2009.

[21] Al-Mustaqbal (Lebanon), January 23, 2009.

[22] Al-Akhbar (Lebanon), January 23, 2009.

[23] Al-Akhbar (Lebanon), January 24, 2009.

[24] Al-Safir (Lebanon), January 24, 2009.

[25], January 24, 2009; Al-Akhbar (Lebanon), January 26, 2009.

[26] Al-Akhbar (Lebanon), January 26, 2009.

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