BEIRUT, Nov 14 (Reuters) A French envoy shuttled between Lebanese leaders today trying to find candidates acceptable to pro- and anti-Syrian factions before they vote for a president next week.
Parliament is due to elect a president on November 21 but the political standoff has delayed the vote three times and France has intensified its efforts to nudge feuding leaders towards agreeing on a candidate.
The presidential deadlock is the most contentious issue in a year-old crisis, in which the Western-backed government is at loggerheads with the Hezbollah-led opposition.
There are fears that in the last 10 days of pro-Syrian President Emile Lahoud's term, it will become more difficult to secure a deal over his successor and Lebanon may plunge into chaos and bloodshed.
French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner made his fifth trip to Beirut in recent months yesterday and said Maronite Patriarch Nasrallah Sfeir agreed to draft a list of presidential nominees from which rival camps would elect a consensus figure.
The president has to be a Maronite according to Lebanon's sectarian power-sharing system.
Former ambassador Jean-Claude Cousseran today met Sfeir, head of the governing coalition Saad al-Hariri and Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, a leading opposition figure. He is also due to meet a Hezbollah delegation.
Sfeir had previously refused to draw up a list for fear of being seen as biased towards a particular party within the Christian community, part of which is allied to the anti-Syrian coalition and part to pro-Syrian Hezbollah.
But political sources said Kouchner, in a last-ditch attempt to resolve Lebanon's worst political crisis since the 1975-1990 civil war, had persuaded Sfeir to provide a list.
''The patriarch is committed to delivering a list to the French envoy but has insisted it remains secret and wants guarantees on that,'' a senior political source told Reuters.
''The stage of frayed nerves begins. It is a positive stage because it could mean reaching a solution but it could also be a negative stage if there isn't an agreeable solution,'' he said.
Several names have emerged but there is no clear frontrunner to succeed Lahoud, whose term expires on November 23.
The declared candidates of the anti-Syrian March 14 coalition are MPs Boutrous Harb and Nassib Lahoud. Former army General Michel Aoun is the opposition's declared candidate.
All have a weak chance of becoming president since the opposing camps do not regard them as compromise candidates.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon is due to visit Lebanon on Thursday. The Italian and Spanish foreign ministers and Arab League chief Amr Moussa are also expected in Lebanon during the week to bolster the French-sponsored initiative.
REUTERS PY HT2134