BEIRUT: President Michel Sleiman called for fighting religious and sectarian extremism by strengthening the role of moderates within each sect, in remarks Friday in a magazine published by the General Security.
In the interview, Sleiman renewed his call for the formation of an all-embracing government to face security challenges resulting from the war in neighboring Syria.
He also urged rival political parties to return to the National Dialogue to discuss a national defense strategy. Excerpts of the interview were carried by the National News Agency.
Referring to the rise of extremist movements in the region, including some that are linked to Al-Qaeda, Sleiman said: “Religious and sectarian extremism should be fought by boosting the role of moderates within each sect, rather than by fighting it.”
He reiterated his rejection of violence in Syria and called for a political solution to the crisis there, avoiding foreign military intervention.
The president’s remarks come as militant Muslim groups affiliated with Al-Qaeda are appearing to gain ground in Syria’s 30-month-old war to topple the regime of President Bashar Assad.
Sleiman, who has condemned Hezbollah’s military intervention in Syria, said the involvement of some Lebanese parties in the conflict next door and the infiltration of “terrorist groups” into Lebanese territory have added to the security burdens of the Army and the security forces.
“Lebanese involvement in Syria has caused tensions among the Lebanese sects and communities,” he said, urging rival factions to distance Lebanon from regional conflicts.
Sleiman has repeatedly urged the feuding parties to commit to the Baabda Declaration, which calls for preserving Lebanon’s neutrality regarding foreign conflicts and thus “sparing it the negative repercussions of regional tensions and crises,” particularly in Syria.
Referring to the months-long political crisis and the failure to form a new Cabinet more than six months after Prime Minister Najib Mikati’s government resigned on March 22, Sleiman said: “The internal political situation is at a standstill,” adding that a solution would be difficult but “not impossible.”
He repeated his demand for the formation of “an all-embracing government comprising everyone on the basis of equality.”
In reiterating his call on the March 8 and March 14 leaders to return to National Dialogue, stalled since September 2012, Sleiman said a new round of talks should focus on “a national defense strategy wherein Lebanon could benefit from the “resistance’s [Hezbollah’s] capabilities to confront any Israeli aggression and defend Lebanon.”
His remarks come as premier-designate Tammam Salam’s attempts to form a new Cabinet have been stymied by the conflicting conditions and demands by the March 8 and March 14 parties over the makeup of the government.
Similarly, Sleiman’s repeated calls for the resumption of National Dialogue have not so far materialized as the rival factions remain at odds over the topics of discussion.
The Future Movement and its March 14 allies insist that the Dialogue session should only concern itself with a national defense strategy and Hezbollah’s arms. Hezbollah and its March 8 allies refuse to see the agenda restricted to these items.
Sleiman, who has rejected any extension of his six-year-term in office which expires in May, warned that the country risked slipping into a presidential vacuum if a Parliament quorum for the election of a new president was thwarted.
“The Constitution has set a mechanism for the election of a president. Therefore, there is no justification for a [term] extension,” he said.
Referring to Parliament’s failure to elect a successor to President Emile Lahoud back in 2008, Sleiman warned against “a repetition of a presidential vacuum and the thwarting of a legal quorum to elect a president.” However, he expressed confidence that a presidential vacuum would not happen this time.