BEIRUT: The Future Movement Sunday rejected Speaker Nabih Berri’s initiative to resolve the deepening political crisis through a National Dialogue session and stressed the need to form a new government before all-party talks could be resumed.
Berri’s initiative came as President Michel Sleiman again appealed to the rival political factions to distance Lebanon from the repercussions of the Syrian conflict, while reiterating his call for an all-embracing government as a way to break the five-month-long Cabinet stalemate.
“I don’t think Speaker Berri’s initiative will help break the political deadlock. The most important thing is to form a new government concurrently with the resumption of dialogue sessions,” a senior Future Movement source told The Daily Star.
Asked what the chances were of forming a new Cabinet given the conflicting terms set by the March 8 and March 14 parties over the makeup and role of the government, the source said: “We have to wait and see how things develop. We must not link the Cabinet formation to regional developments.”
He was referring to spiraling tensions in the region as a result of an impending U.S.-led military strike against Syria over its alleged use of chemical weapons against civilians. U.S. President Barack Obama stepped back from the brink Saturday and delayed a military strike against Syria to seek approval from Congress.
Future MP Ammar Houri criticized Berri’s initiative, saying the Constitution had assigned the Cabinet formation and drafting its policy statement as prerogatives of the president and the prime minister-designate.
“What we fear from Speaker Berri’s proposal is that it might entail a confiscation of constitutional prerogatives,” Houri told Future TV.
In a televised speech Saturday marking the 35th anniversary of the disappearance of missing Shiite Imam Musa Sadr, the founder of the Amal Movement, Berri announced a six-point initiative based on an inter-Lebanese dialogue aimed at resolving the political crisis and the Cabinet impasse.
“There is no way out of the Lebanese crisis except through dialogue ... We call on all parties to engage in an open face-to-face dialogue without waiting for changes in regional developments,” Berri said.
“We propose to President Michel Sleiman a road map that can help put an end to the current aggravating situation,” he said.
The speaker proposed a five-day conclave for dialogue to be attended by March 8 and March 14 leaders, in addition to Prime Minister-designate Tammam Salam, to address thorny and divisive issues. Berri said the agenda of the proposed dialogue would focus on both the makeup and policy statement of the new Cabinet, a national defense strategy, the means to put an end to Lebanese intervention in the Syrian conflict, revival of talks on a new electoral law, and a road map to resolve the socioeconomic crisis.
The speaker’s initiative also calls for bolstering the Army’s capabilities, including the recruitment of 5,000 additional soldiers, and granting the military a complete national mandate as it fights a war against terrorist groups seeking to destabilize Lebanon.
Berri said the military should be supported in order to save Tripoli, the Bekaa Valley and the northern border with Syria from “the chaos of arms, gunmen, bomb networks and death gangs.”
He defended Hezbollah’s arms, saying they were needed to protect the country against a possible Israeli attack.
Recalling Israel’s invasions and attacks on Lebanon, he said: “I say it frankly that any arms outside the Army’s arms and the resistance’s arms on the border [with Israel] are rejected. Let’s stop beating around the bush.”
Berri’s remarks come as the March 14 parties have blasted Hezbollah’s military intervention in Syria and repeatedly called on the party to surrender its arms to the Lebanese Army. They have also rejected the party’s participation in any Cabinet before it withdraws its fighters from Syria.
The Future source criticized Berri’s statement on the legitimacy of the Army’s arms and Hezbollah’s arms in the south.
“He [Berri] ignored the U.N. resolutions, at the forefront of which is Resolution 1701, which regulates the military presence in the south. Speaker Berri has added points that do not exist in these resolutions,” the source told The Daily Star.
Resolution 1701, which ended Israel’s war on Lebanon in the summer of 2006, banned the presence of gunmen and arms in U.N.-controlled areas south of the Litani River.
While praising Berri’s call for dialogue, the source recalled that decisions taken in previous Dialogue sessions – such as the withdrawal of arms and gunmen from outside Palestinian camps, the demarcation of the Lebanese-Syrian borders and commitment to the Special Tribunal for Lebanon – have not been implemented.
“The Lebanese people want the implementation of what has been agreed on ... The problem lies in a lack of confidence in Hezbollah and other March 8 parties,” the source said.
Commenting on Berri’s dialogue call, Lebanese Forces MP Antoine Zahra said Hezbollah should be committed to Lebanon first to help resume National Dialogue. “Despite the absence of dialogue, we insist on not keeping them [Hezbollah] away from any national matter. But they [Hezbollah] must return to Lebanon,” Zahra said, clearly referring to Hezbollah’s military intervention in Syria. “Commitment to Lebanon first is our only condition for any dialogue.”
In his speech, Berri also called for the resigned Cabinet to convene and approve pending oil decrees and issue licenses for Lebanon’s Exclusive Economic Zone, including disputed areas.
“We are not against convening a Cabinet session to approve oil-related decrees, which have already been approved in the preliminary phase before the resignation of the government,” Berri said.
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.
Berri opposed any foreign intervention in Syria, warning that Lebanon would be the most affected by the risks threatening its neighbor.
He called for a political solution to the Syrian conflict. Berri stressed that any peace accord to end the bloodshed in Syria needed to be backed by an American-Russian agreement and a Saudi-Iranian understanding on regional affairs.
Meanwhile, Sleiman reiterated his call to distance Lebanon from the repercussions of the conflict in Syria, urging the rival parties to be committed to the “Baabda Declaration.” He also renewed his call for the resumption of National Dialogue and the formation of an all-embracing government.
“We should form an all-embracing government very soon and meet together at the National Dialogue table to continue discussion of a national defense strategy stemming from the plan I presented ... based on the Baabda Declaration in order to fortify Lebanon and benefit from the resistance’s capabilities with the aim of preserving and developing national capabilities,” he said in a speech at his summer residence in Beiteddine. His remarks came on Greater Lebanon Day, marking the 1920 creation of Greater Lebanon as part of the French mandate for Lebanon and Syria.
Sleiman presented last year a national defense strategy plan that would see Hezbollah’s arms placed under the Army’s command.
Sleiman criticized political boycotts of Parliament sessions and urged the rival factions to facilitate Salam’s mission in forming a new Cabinet.
While condemning the use of chemical weapons in Syria, he called for a political solution to the Syrian conflict and rejected any foreign military intervention in the strife-torn country.