US Secretary of State John Kerry urged Lebanon Wednesday to elect a "fully empowered" president, free from foreign influence, as a major political crisis has left the country's top post vacant.
"We need a government that is free from foreign influence, with a fully empowered president, and with the president and the parliament responding directly to the people and to the needs of the people," he said during an unannounced visit to Beirut.
"The current political stalemate here in Lebanon is deeply troubling," he said, speaking to reporters.
"It's unfortunate that the parliament did not elect a president on schedule, as the Lebanese constitution requires."
Lebanon has had no president since May 25, when Michel Sleiman's mandate expired because the two rival blocs that dominate politics have been unable to agree on a successor.
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Lebanon, which was dominated by Syria for nearly 30 years until 2005, is sharply divided into pro- and anti-Damascus camps.
Shiite-led Hezbollah and its allies back Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, and the Sunni-led March 14 coalition supports the revolt battling to oust him.
Kerry said it is important for Lebanon to fill the presidential void, and that "it's also important for the region."
While the Hezbollah-led camp has the backing of Damascus and Iran, March 14 has the support of Washington and Middle East kingpin Saudi Arabia.
In the two months leading up to the end of Sleiman's mandate, parliament convened five times to try to elect a successor, but never got a quorum.
Lebanon was without a president for months in 1988, during the country's civil war, and again in 2007 due to disagreements before Sleiman was finally elected.