BEIRUT: With rival Lebanese factions refusing to speak to each other, a long-awaited Saudi-Iranian rapprochement is viewed as the only way to defuse tensions in Lebanon and break the Cabinet deadlock, officials on both sides of the political spectrum said Thursday.
If anything politicians in the March 8 and March 14 camps can agree on it is that the Cabinet crisis, which has entered its seventh month, is poised to drag on for a long time. The fate of the Lebanese appears even more inextricably linked to developments in the region, particularly the 30-month war in Syria which is leaving adverse repercussions on Lebanon’s fragile security and stability.
“It is highly unlikely that a new Cabinet will be formed soon because Lebanon is not a priority for regional powers now,” caretaker Tourism Minister Fadi Abboud told The Daily Star. “The Cabinet deadlock will drag on for quite a long time to come because the Cabinet formation, unfortunately, is entirely linked to regional developments.”
Asked if an improvement in strained Saudi-Iranian relations would help resolve the Cabinet crisis, he said: “Definitely, any Saudi-Iranian rapprochement will help defuse the crisis in Lebanon, but there are no signs indicating that such a rapprochement will happen soon.”
Abboud, who belongs to MP Michel Aoun’s parliamentary Change and Reform bloc, spoke shortly after he met with Prime Minister-designate Tammam Salam, with whom he reviewed the hurdles facing the formation of a new Cabinet.
Salam met in Moseitbeh with the U.S. Ambassador to Lebanon David Hale, with whom he discussed “bilateral relations between the two countries and developments in Lebanon and the region,” according to a statement released by Salam’s office.
Salam is to meet with President Michel Sleiman at Baabda Palace Friday as part of their ongoing consultations on the Cabinet crisis.
Meanwhile, former premier Fouad Siniora met Sleiman with whom he discussed the current political developments in Lebanon and the ongoing consultations to form a new government.
Salam’s attempts to form a Cabinet have been stalled by conflicting conditions set by the rival parties over the makeup of the government. He has suggested an 8-8-8 Cabinet lineup equally shared by the rival factions and centrists. The centrists refer to Sleiman, Salam and MP Walid Jumblatt.
The Hezbollah-led March 8 alliance has rejected Salam’s 8-8-8 Cabinet formula which denies them veto power and calls for the rotation of key portfolios among parliamentary blocs. Instead, it is pressing for a 9-9-6 proposal.
A source close to Salam predicted that the Cabinet stalemate would linger on while the rival factions upheld their conflicting conditions.
“The Cabinet crisis will go on as long as the feuding parties do not make concessions in favor of Lebanon’s interest,” the source told The Daily Star.
The source agreed with Abboud’s view that a Saudi-Iranian understanding would reflect positively on the situation in Lebanon. “Any Saudi-Iranian rapprochement will definitely help defuse the crisis in Lebanon and help break the Cabinet impasse,” he said.
Future MP Ammar Houri said his group rejected the 9-9-6 Cabinet formula “because it gives veto power” to the March 8 and March 14 parties.Accusing Hezbollah of blocking the Cabinet formation, Houri told The Daily Star: “The Cabinet formation is in the hands of the president and the prime minister-designate, who must act to issue the decree of a new Cabinet.”
He acknowledged that “a breakthrough in regional relations” – a reference to Saudi-Iranian ties – would help defuse political and sectarian tensions in Lebanon.
Speaker Nabih Berri, who returned to Beirut from Geneva Thursday after attending the 129th General Assembly of the International Parliamentary Union, said Tuesday improved Iranian-Saudi relations would result in breakthroughs in the Syria crisis as well as in Lebanon and Iraq.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani was scheduled to visit Saudi Arabia to perform the hajj later this month and meet with Saudi King Abdullah bin Abdel-Aziz. But the visit for unknown reasons has been delayed.