BEIRUT: Prime Minister-designate Tammam Salam warned Thursday that no new Cabinet could be formed in Lebanon as long as the rival political factions upheld their conflicting terms on the shape and role of the government.
He also vowed not to give up efforts to form a new Cabinet despite major hurdles facing him, while ruling out the possibility of a fait accompli government as a last resort to break the five-month-long Cabinet stalemate.
Separately, President Michel Sleiman is to meet with his French counterpart Francois Hollande in Nice Saturday on the sidelines of the opening of the Francophone Games, a Baabda Palace source told AFP. The meeting comes amid concerns in the region over a potential U.S.-led military strike on Syria, which Hollande backs.
Speaking to reporters after talks with Sleiman at Baabda Palace, Salam, who was named prime minister-designate on April 6, blamed conditions and counter-conditions set by the March 8 and March 14 parties for the delay in forming a new Cabinet.
“We are in the midst of a jungle of conditions and counterconditions which have not ceased over five months,” Salam said. “But my efforts, in full cooperation with the president, will continue despite the difficult circumstances and developments.”
Salam said the parties’ conflicting conditions were not facilitating the Cabinet formation. “This is our situation today and I feel duty-bound to speak about it and confront everyone with it. As long as the political parties are in disagreement and have different criteria on their visions concerning the Cabinet formation – criteria linked to their standing, influence and gains – it won’t be easy for these parties to meet with us in forming a Cabinet.”
“This is the situation unfortunately. But I won’t lose hope and I won’t give up the mission as long as I feel that the people are supporting me and they have considerable confidence in me.”
Asked if he would eventually form a fait accompli government, Salam said: “I’ve said on several times that I am for a realistic government, rather than a fait accompli government ... I don’t want to impose anything or challenge anyone or to get involved in anything that could cause more harm than benefit.”
Hezbollah and its March 8 allies have warned against forming a neutral or fait accompli government. They want a national unity or all-embracing government in which all the political parties are represented according to their size in Parliament.Salam said he was seeking to form a government that “can confront and deal with this delicate and sensitive situation” facing Lebanon.
Recent incidents have prompted calls from Sleiman as well as religious leaders for the formation of a new government comprising all the political parties to meet security challenges. The specter of a U.S.-led military strike against Syria over its alleged use of chemical weapons looms large, while deadly car bombings in the southern suburbs and north Lebanon last month are expected to be repeated.
Yet Salam hinted at the possibility of stepping down if the quest of forming a Cabinet became harmful to the country and the people: “When I feel that the matter is causing harm or damage to the country and the people, I won’t hesitate for one minute to take the appropriate stance.”
Salam rejected Speaker Nabih Berri’s latest initiative to resolve the government crisis during a dialogue session, saying the Cabinet formation was the responsibility of the premier-designate and the president.
Last week, Berri proposed a five-day conclave for dialogue between March 8 and March 14 leaders that would discuss both the makeup and policy statement of the new Cabinet. However, Berri’s proposal has been rejected by the Future Movement and its March 14 allies.
“Dialogue in general is required to solve many of the major problems in Lebanon. But the issue of the Cabinet formation is the responsibility of the prime minister-designate and the president,” Salam said. He also reiterated his opposition to granting veto power to any party in the new Cabinet.
Asked if his old proposal for a 24-member Cabinet equally divided among the March 8 and March 14 parties and centrists still existed following a rival proposal for a 9-9-6 Cabinet lineup, Salam said: “The issue of formulas and numbers are just details. What matters is for all political parties to show a serious intent to form a government.” The centrist ministers would be chosen by Sleiman, Salam and MP Walid Jumblatt.
The March 8 parties, who have rejected the 3-8 Cabinet formula, have proposed a 24-member Cabinet lineup with nine ministerial posts each for the March 8 and March 14 camps and the other six portfolios for Sleiman, Salam and Jumblatt.
Hezbollah blamed the March 14 coalition for the Cabinet impasse.
“The March 14 team bears full responsibility for this situation because of its insistence on the obstruction Parliament sessions and the Cabinet formation through presenting the prime minister-designate with impossible conditions,” Hezbollah’s parliamentary bloc said in a statement after its weekly meeting.