BEIRUT: The latest regional and international developments, namely U.S.-Iran contacts and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s forthcoming visit to Saudi Arabia, have put a damper on the already stalled attempts to form a new Cabinet, dashing hopes for the birth of a government soon, political sources said Monday.
Separately, the postponement of President Michel Sleiman’s visit to Saudi Arabia has raised a volley of speculation about the reasons, prompting the Saudi Ambassador to Lebanon Ali Awad Asiri to issue a clarification.
Asiri said Riyadh and Beirut had consulted on the postponement of Sleiman’s visit. “The postponement of the visit to a date to be set later came following consultations between the Saudi and Lebanese leaderships,” Asiri said in a terse statement carried by the National News Agency.
Sleiman had been scheduled to visit Riyadh Tuesday for talks with King Abdullah bin Abdel-Aziz and other senior Saudi officials on the monthslong political crisis in Lebanon as well as threats to the country’s security and stability as a result of the repercussions of the 30-month war in Syria.
March 8 parliamentary sources told The Daily Star Sunday that the postponement of the visit was apparently linked to a possible thaw in tense Saudi-Iranian relations widely anticipated during Rouhani’s visit to the kingdom next month and its potential positive impact on the Lebanese crisis.
In addition to performing the hajj during his Saudi visit, Rouhani is expected to hold talks with King Abdullah on bilateral relations strained by sharp differences over regional issues, particularly the conflict in Syria, where the two regional heavyweights back opposing sides.
Media reports said Sleiman was scheduled to visit the United Arab Emirates Wednesday, but the visit has also been postponed. A source at Baabda Palace said the UAE visit had not been originally planned to be postponed or canceled.Meanwhile, Prime Minister-designate Tammam Salam met with Sleiman as part of their ongoing consultations on the six-month-old Cabinet deadlock.
Salam did not speak to reporters after the meeting at Baabda Palace, in a move reflecting continued difficulties in narrowing the wide gap between the March 8 and March 14 parties over the makeup of the next government.
The Baabda meeting comes as Salam’s proposal for a 24-member Cabinet lineup equally divided by the rival parties and centrists appears to have been brushed off by regional developments, while the Hezbollah-led March 8 alliance is pressing for a 9-9-6 proposal.
Sources close to Salam and the Future Movement said the two sides oppose a 9-9-6 Cabinet proposal which would give veto power to the March 8 and March 14 camps.
Salam, faced with conflicting conditions and demands from the rival factions over the shape of the government, has proposed an 8-8-8 Cabinet lineup equally shared by March 8 and March 14 parties and centrists, which refer to Sleiman, Salam and Progressive Socialist Party leader MP Walid Jumblatt.
Hezbollah and its March 8 allies have rejected this proposal, which denies them veto power and calls for key portfolios to be rotated among major blocs.
U.N. Special Coordinator for Lebanon Derek Plumbly called for the formation of a government capable of facing security challenges.
In a statement after meeting Salam, Plumbly said he briefed the PM-designate on last week’s meetings of the General Assembly in New York, particularly the meeting of the International Support Group for Lebanon.
“We also talked about the new Cabinet, which was the focus of support of states at the New York meeting which strongly stressed the urgent need for the creation of a government capable of coping with the various security, humanitarian and educational challenges facing Lebanon,” he said.
Jumblatt, Hezbollah and the Kataeb Party renewed their calls for the formation of an all-embracing government to meet security and economic challenges, especially after the boat incident in Indonesia that killed at least 26 Lebanese from the northern province of Akkar.
In his weekly article to the PSP’s online Al-Anbaa newspaper, Jumblatt urged rival political parties to help the formation of “an all-embracing government without setting conditions and counter-conditions.”
Hezbollah’s deputy head Sheikh Naim Qassem accused the March 14 coalition of thwarting attempts to form a new Cabinet with their conditions.
“They [March 14] are harming the country’s unity. They do not accept agreement, partnership or dialogue,” Qassem said during a graduation ceremony at UNESCO Palace. “Can anyone in this country rule alone?”
“They are crippling the Parliament, obstructing the Cabinet [formation] with their conditions and hampering the prime minister designate’s mission,” he added.
Former Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, head of the parliamentary Future bloc, has blamed Hezbollah for the Cabinet stalemate.
Qassem reiterated his party’s demand for an all-encompassing Cabinet, saying Salam should listen to both sides in the formation process. “We believe that an all-embracing government can save the country,” he said.
Noting that regional and international developments point to political solutions to regional conflicts, Qassem said: “We call for Dialogue which we see as a way for a solution. A solution in Lebanon is reached through a political consensus.”
The Kataeb Party said the tragedy of the Lebanese who died in the boat incident in Indonesia should prompt rival politicians to facilitate the formation of a government capable of shouldering its responsibilities at all levels.
“This tragic incident should be enough to revive [politicians’] conscience and facilitate the formation of a Cabinet which must be tasked with following up this issue with all its national, humanitarian and legal dimensions,” the party said in a statement after its weekly meeting chaired by former President Amin Gemayel.