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Sleiman says no reason for Cabinet meeting
President Michel Sleiman poses with a delegation from the press syndicate at the Presidential Palace in Baabda, Monday, Dec. 9, 2013. (The Daily Star/Dalati Nohra, HO)
President Michel Sleiman poses with a delegation from the press syndicate at the Presidential Palace in Baabda, Monday, Dec. 9, 2013. (The Daily Star/Dalati Nohra, HO)
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BEIRUT: President Michel Sleiman dismissed Monday the need to convene a caretaker Cabinet session to the ire of caretaker Energy Minister Gebran Bassil, who has been urging the government to meet to approve pending oil decrees.

“I don’t yet see a need to convene a Cabinet session,” Sleiman told reporters at Baabda Palace.

Sleiman's remarks come days after caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati said he was considering the possibility of convening a Cabinet session to address people's growing needs and security threats.

A ministerial source told The Daily Star Sunday that Mikati was consulting with the president over whether ot not to convene the caretaker Cabinet, something staunchly opposed by the March 14 coalition.

The source said that it was too early to say whether the resigned Cabinet, dominated by March 8 politicians, would convene.

Speaker Nabih Berri and his allies in the March 8 group have repeatedly called for a Cabinet session even under the government’s caretaker capacity to approve oil decrees. The decrees, demarcating 10 maritime oil exploration blocks and establishing a revenue-sharing model, require Cabinet approval before oil and gas contracts can be awarded. Delays in issuing the decrees could postpone offshore drilling and exploration, some politicians charge.

Bassil reiterated his party’s demand Monday for a Cabinet session to pass pending oil decrees, accusing Mikati of being subservient to the wishes of the Future Movement which opposes the idea.

Following his meeting with Speaker Nabih Berri, Bassil said the decision needed to fully approve the decrees is a procedural one "and not financial and has nothing to do with demarcating all of the blocks” including the disputed ones with Israel.

"The only thing needed is for the Cabinet to issue the decrees," he told reporters, adding that the Cabinet prior to its resignation had passed the decrees.

"Is issuing the decrees an important and pressing issue from the perspective of the president and the PM who call for a Cabinet session? I will leave the answer to this question up to the Lebanese and whether their financial situation is critical,” he said.

He also said Mikati was subject to the whims of the March 14 group particularly the Future Movement.

“In principle, the decision [to convene a Cabinet session] is up to the March 14 group ... we always knew that Mikati, with all due respect, cares primarily about the interests of Future Movement and does what they want,” Bassil said.

“The government will not address the oil issue unless the March 14 allows it particularly the decision making part which is the Future Movement,” the minister, a member of MP Michel Aoun’s Free Patriotic Movement, said.

“Therefore, we no longer ask the president or the PM to include the oil issue on the agenda of a potential Cabinet session, but we appeal to the national conscience of the Future Movement to do so,” he said.

Bassil said the president and the caretaker PM have been selective in their decisions and that the two have surpassed the Cabinet by making decisions on their own.

Speaking to a delegation from the Press Association, Sleiman also dismissed as “unconstitutional” a legislative session to extend the mandate of the president’s term.

“Presidential elections will take place and there will be a new head of state,” the president whose term expires in May 2014 said.

Lebanon has been crippled by a political stalemate linked to the Syrian crisis as Prime Minister-designate Tammam Salam struggle to form a new Cabinet in light of conditions and counter-conditions.

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