BEIRUT: A meeting between caretaker Social Affairs Minister Wael Abu Faour and senior Saudi officials bore no fruit, political sources said Monday, further prolonging the current impasse over the formation of a new government.
Political sources told The Daily Star that the talks “did not yield any results regarding the formation of a new Cabinet.”
Abu Faour returned to Beirut from Riyadh Monday after holding talks with Saudi officials about recent regional developments, including Syria and its repercussions in Lebanon. Upon arrival, he immediately debriefed Progressive Socialist Party head MP Walid Jumblatt of what had transpired.
Abu Faour’s regularly visits Saudi Arabia as an envoy of the PSP.
The sources added that the caretaker minister, who is scheduled to attend a conference in Geneva Wednesday, might also visit France to meet former Prime Minister Saad Hariri in Nice to discuss matters related to the Cabinet formation with him.
Caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati also held talks with Saudi officials, as he met with Saudi Ambassador to Lebanon Ali Awad Asiri at the Grand Serail, where they discussed issues of mutual interest.
Meanwhile, in an attempt to break the impasse, Patriarch Beshara Rai revealed that the Maronite Church was also making contacts with various Lebanese political groups to resolve the political crisis.
Rai’s comments came a few days after Speaker Nabih Berri announced an initiative to solve the Cabinet deadlock through National Dialogue.
Rai voiced hope that politicians respond to the calls for dialogue and reconciliation, during a Mass in the Jbeil village of Dfoun.
Rai stressed the need “to safeguard Lebanon, the National Pact and the coexistence guaranteed by it.”
“Efforts are underway with all politicians to come to an understanding, because we can’t tolerate this conflict among the Lebanese anymore,” he added.
He described the prospects of coming to such an understanding among politicians as “good.”
Berri has proposed a five-day conclave for dialogue to be attended by March 8 and March 14 leaders, as well as premier-designate Tammam Salam, to address divisive national issues.
The speaker said the proposed dialogue would focus on both the composition and ministerial 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 national socio-economic crisis.
Political figures across the political divide expressed disparaging views of Berri’s initiative, especially those affiliated with the Future Movement.
Future MP Ahmad Fatfat described Berri’s initiative as an attempt to alter the political system. “[The call to dialogue] is an attempt to change the political system, for he is putting the role of the president and the prime minister-designate on the discussion table.”
He said the call to dialogue would not yield results because “all the initiatives that [Berri] has put forth in the past have been failures.”
Hariri’s Foreign Affairs adviser Mohammad Chatah said that “the Baabda Declaration is a fundamental component for Cabinet formation efforts.”
“If there aren’t meaningful attempts to neutralize the country [in the face of regional conflicts] then talks of forming a Cabinet are meaningless,” he added.
Jumblatt, however, hailed Berri’s call for dialogue because it intended to end the political deadlock.
“The Progressive Socialist Party backs every call for dialogue because it will help prevent Lebanon from plunging into the abyss,” Jumblatt said in his weekly op-ed in the PSP publication Al-Anbaa.
He said that resuming the National Dialogue would lead to breakthroughs over divisive matters, such as Hezbollah’s military intervention in Syria.
“Resuming National Dialogue will help to reinforce the policy of disassociation [from the Syria crisis] and renew the call for all sides to withdraw from Syria, starting with the resistance, which has turned its weapons away from Israel,” he said.
“The resistance’s role should be limited to the border [with Israel] as Berri has said and this requires discussions over a comprehensive national defense strategy to resume,” Jumblatt added.
Change and Reform bloc MP Simon Abi Ramya said “these historical times require all parties to participate in an all-embracing Cabinet,” in an interview with OTV.
The Kataeb Party expressed its support for any initiative which encourages dialogue.
Kataeb Party MP Fadi Habr said any such initiative was welcome “provided it is genuine and leads to drawing a real road map to restore both power and decision-making to the hands of the state’s institutions.”
“The tripartite equation ‘The Army, the people and the resistance’ harms the country and constitutes treason,” he added.
Separately, caretaker Energy Minister Gebran Bassil is expected to announce an especially fiery stance against Mikati over outstanding oil decrees requiring the resigned Cabinet to convene for approval.
Bassil threatened that he would take a “serious stance if a government session was not called to pass the oil regulating decree.”
However, sources said Bassil should expect to be disappointed as Mikati is likely to reject his request to convene the caretaker Cabinet. Bassil and Mikati are set to hold talks over the controversial issue Tuesday morning.