Lebanon continues to hang in the balance as regional alliances appear to shift but never settle, preventing any progress from being made regarding the formation of a new government.
As Prime Minister-designate Tammam Salam said last week from Baabda, negotiations over the next Cabinet appear to have returned to square one, with both Salam and President Michel Sleiman attempting to sort out their next steps.
According to multiple sources, including Western officials, several steps must take place on a regional level before the road to a new government is cleared:
The expected meeting between the P5 +1 and Iran to discuss the latter’s nuclear program could affect a new regional settlement, as well as the success or failure of Lakhdar Brahimi, the U.N.-Arab league envoy to Syria who is scheduled to visit several influential countries in an attempt to secure a kind of truce before the Geneva II conference.
All this is taking place as a rumored rapprochement between Iran and Saudi Arabia continues to linger on the horizon.
Western sources who spoke to The Daily Star said a meeting between Saudi Arabia’s King Abdallah bin Abdul-Aziz and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani could take place within the next two weeks, adding that intense preparations were underway. Both sides have formed special committees to draw up an agenda for the meeting which aims to reach a comprehensive solution to the regional crisis. The Lebanese stalemate and government formation will be included on this list, the sources said.
On the Lebanese domestic front, sources said the U.S. ambassador to Lebanon, David Hale, has been moving to try and find a way of out the current stalemate over the government formation, but so far has not been able to bridge the lack of trust between the two sides, which continue to trade accusations. Hale has not let up in his efforts, despite raising eyebrows among some parliamentarians who question his decision to push for a government while publicly slamming Hezbollah, which they consider an essential part of the Lebanese political life.
Western sources warned that regional uncertainty, particularly regarding American-Iranian relations and its implications for Syria, would continue to negatively affect Lebanon. The sources predicted that the ongoing crisis in Syria will likely push Hezbollah to double down on its demands regarding the new Cabinet because it needs the government to give cover to its fighting there. The other side, meanwhile, refuses to accept this, favoring a government that will look after the interests of the Lebanese rather than trying to determine the outcome of the Syrian crisis.
Separately, observers said that a meeting between Speaker Nabih Berri and former Prime Minister Fouad Siniora after the Eid al-Adha holiday to discuss the National Dialogue could yield results, but added that this was unlikely in light of internal tensions and a lack of positive indications from Riyadh, which recently postponed a visit by Sleiman.