Nasrallah Renews Support for Aoun Presidential Bid

Nasrallah Renews Support for Aoun Presidential Bid

TEHRAN (Tasnim) – Secretary General of the Lebanese Hezbollah Resistance Movement Seyed Hassan Nasrallah renewed his support for Michel Aoun's presidential candidacy.

"The Hezbollah leadership got together to study our options" after the recent developments in the presidential issue, "and we have come to a decision," Nasrallah said in a televised speech on Friday, The Daily Star reported.

"We took the ethical decision to back Gen. Michel Aoun...," he said. "If Gen. Michel Aoun comes to us and says he is no longer a candidate, then this is a different story."

Nasrallah's declaration ends weeks of speculation over Hezbollah's position regarding the presidential election in light of an initiative launched in November by Future Movement chief Saad Hariri to back rival Frangieh, head of the Marada Movement, for presidency.

Frangieh, a longtime ally of both Hezbollah and Aoun, the founder of the Free Patriotic Movement, had not even been considered a candidate for the presidency until Hariri's initiative became public.

Once known, tensions quickly clouded the relationship between Aoun and Frangieh. It also alienated Lebanese Forces chief Samir Geagea, who had until that point been considered the Future-led March 14 coalition's presidential candidate.

In his speech Friday, Nasrallah revealed that he had warned Frangieh to approach Hariri's proposal with caution.

"I said, 'Sleiman, be careful that they (Hariri) are not [trying to play you] to create problems between you and Aoun, or between you and Hezbollah'," Nasrallah recalled telling Frangieh after revealing to him his contacts with Hariri.

"But I said, no problem, let's see what happens... If it appears the issue is serious, then this would be a new starting point... If this is serious we'll go to Gen. Aoun and talk about it."

He went on to describe the manner in which Hariri went about his initiative as "wrong," saying it "blocked the way for any serious dialogue" between different sides on the issue.

The initiative also frustrated Geagea, a longtime rival of Aoun and fierce critic of Hezbollah, prompting him last week to pull out of the presidential race in favor of Aoun.

Nasrallah welcomed the move, renewing calls for all rivals in the country to open channels of dialogue. "At the end of the day this country needs understanding between all side," he said. "This country doesn't work without understanding."

Frangieh had repeatedly declared his support for Aoun's presidential bid throughout the 20-month-long presidential vacuum, even after Hariri's initiative became known.

But after last week's endorsement of Aoun by Geagea, Frangieh said he was sticking to his candidacy, and on Wednesday told reporters it would be illogical for him to withdraw since he had the support of Future, the largest parliamentary bloc.

Nasrallah indirectly criticized Geagea over his recent claims that if Hezbollah was serious about its commitment to Aoun, it would push its other allies to return to Parliament and elect him.

Nasrallah said Hezbollah could not "force" anyone to support Aoun, rejecting the idea that he had the power to elect or reject any candidate.

He also rejected speculation that a rift had developed between Hezbollah and Amal over the presidency issue. Amal, which has not enjoyed the same, firm relationship with the FPM that Hezbollah has, is rumored to be supporting Hariri's initiative.

"The relationship between Hezbollah and the Amal Movement is one of total respect, communication, and dialogue," Nasrallah said.

Nasrallah added that there was "love between us and our allies... There is a special respect, different from a political agreement."

Aoun had voiced a similar message of solidarity between him and Nasrallah in an interview published Friday in Al-Akhbar newspaper, saying the allies were "one".

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