Daily star, BEIRUT: French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner described the results of his talks with Lebanese political leaders as "excellent" Tuesday, but he also warned that the situation  remains complicated. "France wants and hopes this [election] process to be held according to the Lebanese Constitution," Kouchner said before his scheduled departure from Lebanon late Tuesday night. He also warned that if a new president were not selected before the expiration of incumbent Emile Lahoud’s term on November 24, "no one knows what will happen."

Kouchner met twice with Maronite Patriarch Nasrallah Butros Sfeir, and two more times with parliamentary majority leader MP Saad Hariri. He announced from Ain al-Tineh, where he met Speaker Nabih Berri, that he would be returning to Lebanon next week before November 21, the latest date set by Berri for a session of Parliament to elect a new president. During a press conference at Beirut’s Rafik Hariri International Airport later, he also said he was "optimistic" about contacts between the government and the opposition – and that he expected Berri would convene the November 21 session.

"We support the efforts of the Maronite patriarch and we hope he puts forward a list of names or one name [for president]," Kouchner  told reporters after his meeting with Berri, "but all we want is for the sects to agree, the majority and the opposition, over a certain name for the president."

Kouchner said he hopes the Lebanese overcome their differences as Europe has done, giving as example the struggle between France and Germany over centuries.

"We built Europe and we made a huge a effort," he said, "and I hope the Lebanese sects exert similar efforts for the sake of an election that will bolster a mood of democracy and independence in Lebanon."

Hariri told reporters that French efforts would continue to support the convening of presidential elections on time.

"France firmly supports those who believe in the necessity of electing a president for the Republic of Lebanon in Parliament," Kouchner said. "The French president, the government and I personally are very glad because we were able to contribute to what we consider progress by all the Lebanese and all the Lebanese sects."

Kouchner also asserted that France never favored one sect over the other in Lebanon, and criticized a speech made by Hizbullah’s leader, Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, on Sunday.

"I was sorry to hear threatening voices two days ago," Kouchner said, referring to  Nasrallah’s speech. "These voices want to say that this electoral path is not the right one, but I don’t think so. I think that the Lebanese people should persist on this path to elect a consensus candidate."

Kouchner said he told all his "Lebanese friends" that they should persist on the road to holding the presidential election because it is the only path that has the support of the whole international community.

"Lebanon is very important for France," Kouchner said. "I think that the whole world will watch this election and they will be a symbol of a multi-sec tarian, multi-religious Lebanon which is important to this region," he added.

Kouchner added that France would continue its efforts in the spirit of the Celle Saint-Cloud meetings this past summer,

which saw representatives of Lebanon’s squabbling political meet in a Paris suburb in a failed bid to resolve the impasse.

Hariri told reporters that Lebanon is going through tough times and that certain voices do not want elections, hinting at Nasrallah.

"But with the French efforts and the true determination of the March 14 Forces I am confident that we would be able to elect a president," Hariri said.

Kouchner also met Prime Minister Fouad Siniora at the Grand Serail, where he stayed for lunch.

The French foreign minister described his talks with Siniora as "open and friendly."

Kouchner then headed to the French Embassy in Beirut, where he met with former President Amin Gemayel, Marada Party leader Suleiman Franjieh and Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea.

Change and Reform Bloc leader MP Michel Aoun, had been due to meet Kouchner at the Residence des Pins but declined for security reasons, prompting Kouchner to travel to Aoun’s home in Rabieh before heading to Bkirki to meet with Sfeir for a second time to update the patriarch on the result of his talks. – Agencies

Bush phones Siniora to reiterate support

WASHINGTON: US President George W. Bush Monday telephoned Lebanese Premier Fouad Siniora to give him his backing for presidential polls free of Syrian interference, the White House said.

Bush briefed Siniora about his meetings this week with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Nicolas Sarkozy, White House spokeswoman Dana Perino told reporters aboard Air Force One.

"He reiterated his commitment to ensuring March 14 as the democratically elected government, and that they should be able to elect a government free of any external interference, especially from Syria," said Perino.

The two opposing camps, pro-government March 14 and opposition March 8, failed to reach

an agreement over the latest

obstacle, the presidential election, plunging Lebanon into

further chaos.

Speaker Nabih Berri on Saturday postponed until November 21, for a third time, a special session to elect a new president.

Current President Emile Lahoud’s term ends on November 24.

In his call to Siniora, Bush "reconfirmed our position that elections must happen on time and according to Lebanon’s Constitution," according to Perino.

"And he said that he looked forward to working closely with a president that is upholding Lebanon’s international obligations," she said. – AFP