Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's choice to hold her first meeting with the head of Lebanon's Catholic Maronite Church is indicative of the current U.S priorities towards Lebanon. The Patriarch plays a central role in determining the fate of the presidency and has only recently moved to de-legitimize President Emile Lahoud's mandate. Equally telling is her decision not to meet with the Pro-Syrian Lahoud as she had done on her prior visit.
Now that Patriarch Sfier has clearly stated that current conditions surrounding the presidency must not continue, the debate between pro and anti Syrian parties is likely to shift from whether or not to ouster President Lahoud to trying to find a compromise candidate. Yesterday's visit by the Qatari Foreign Minister to Beirut and Damascus may be an attempt to broker such a compromise. It is not entirely unimaginable that Damascus might try to bargain and compromise over Lahoud's fate rather than wait until next year and see his term expire in return for little.
In any event although it's not quite a done deal yet, Lahoud seems to be on his way out. It is increasingly unlikely that he will remain in office until the end of his mandate, but domestic and regional negotiations regarding a replacement may take weeks or even months.
We will retain the pleasure of having him in the Presidency (sarcasim of course) as the March 14 deadline comes and goes.