BEIRUT: Former Prime Minister Saad Hariri Friday threw his weight behind the Baabda Declaration, saying the pact, designed to protect Lebanon from the repercussions of the unrest in Syria, was a road map toward the country’s stability and dialogue among the rival political leaders.
Hariri, the head of the Future Movement, is the latest leader to enter the fray over the Baabda Declaration, which has stirred a nationwide controversy after it had been harshly criticized by Hezbollah and its March 8 allies.
“Unfortunately, there are some who seek to erase [the Baabda Declaration] from memory and from official records altogether in a single media strike by the forces of confrontation and rejection,” Hariri said in a statement released by his office, in a clear reference to Hezbollah and its March 8 allies.
“The Baabda Declaration is a serious and responsible road map toward dialogue, stability and calming the situation. So will the rejectionists learn their lesson?” he added.
Hariri voiced support for a statement issued by President Michel Sleiman in which the latter defended the Baabda Declaration and lashed out at its critics.
“We fully agree with the content of the statement issued by the presidency in this regard, not out of courtesy toward the presidency and its clarifications, or to squeeze it in the corners of the current political polarization in the country and categorize it as being part of this or that group, but as a matter of acknowledging a historical fact that goes back to less than a year ago,” Hariri said.
Recent criticism by some March 8 politicians, including Hezbollah MPs and Marada Movement leader Suleiman Franjieh, prompted Sleiman Thursday to release a statement detailing how rival March 8 and March 14 leaders agreed on the Baabda Declaration aimed at shielding Lebanon from a spillover of the war in Syria.
The statement said the clarification aimed to clear up the confusion regarding the declaration, which was endorsed by the rival leaders during a National Dialogue session chaired by Sleiman at Baabda Palace in June 2012.
Sleiman’s statement said the declaration was an important, internationally recognized document that lays the foundation for safeguarding the country’s sovereignty and unity. He said the statement would pave the way for discussions on a national defense strategy to protect the country against a possible Israeli attack.
The declaration calls for “keeping Lebanon away from regional and international conflicts and sparing it the negative repercussions of regional tensions and crises,” particularly in Syria.
However, the declaration has sparked a row between the March 14 coalition, which is pushing for the pact to be adopted as a policy statement of a new Cabinet, and the Hezbollah-led March 8 alliance, which wants to see the “Army, people and resistance” formula remain in the next government’s ministerial statement.
Nabatieh MP Mohammad Raad, the head of Hezbollah’s parliamentary bloc, said recently that the declaration was “stillborn.”
The Future Movement and its March 14 allies have accused Hezbollah of violating the declaration with its military intervention in Syria.
U.N. Special Coordinator for Lebanon Derek Plumbly stressed the need for Lebanon to commit to the Baabda Declaration despite the diminishing threat of a U.S.-led military strike against Syria.
“Obviously we greatly welcome the recent diplomatic breakthrough [concerning U.S. plans to attack Syria]. But the situation remains serious, thus underlining the importance of Lebanon continuing to adopt the policy of disassociation and the principles of the Baabda Declaration,” Plumbly said in a statement after meeting caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati.
Separately, Sleiman and Mikati praised Speaker Nabih Berri’s efforts to resume dialogue among rival leaders.
“President Sleiman welcomes any initiative or proposal aimed at [launching] dialogue, meeting together and understanding to find solutions to the current situation,” according to a statement released by Sleiman’s office.
The statement said Sleiman stressed the need to implement previous decisions, notably the Baabda Declaration, taken at dialogue sessions.
The president’s remarks came during a meeting with a delegation from Berri’s parliamentary bloc. They were tasked by the speaker to visit top Lebanese officials to brief them on his latest initiative to break the monthslong political impasse.
The delegation, comprising MPs Michel Musa, Yassin Jaber and Ali Bazzi, also met for the same purpose with Mikati and Prime Minister-designate Tammam Salam.
Unlike Salam, who has rejected Berri’s initiative, Mikati voiced support for it.
“We support any effort that leads to reviving dialogue between us, the Lebanese, in order to reach an understanding that will protect our country in these delicate circumstances through which our region is passing,” Mikati said.
He added that Berri was very keen on the role of and cooperation between constitutional institutions and unity among the Lebanese. “We will meet him halfway in his dialogue endeavor to make it a success and cooperate for Lebanon’s salvation,” Mikati said.
Last month, Berri proposed a five-day conclave for dialogue between March 8 and March 14 leaders, in addition to Salam, to address divisive issues, including the makeup and policy statement of a new Cabinet, a national defense strategy, means to end Lebanese intervention in Syria and talks on a new electoral law.
Some March 14 politicians have rejected Berri’s proposal, viewing it as an infringement on the prerogatives of the president and the premier-designate.
Also Friday, a coalition of pro- Syria Lebanese leftist and national parties responded to Sleiman’s statement on the Baabda Declaration and reiterated support for Hezbollah’s right to defend Lebanon against Israeli threats.
A statement issued by the parties said the Baabda Declaration was merely a declaration on “a general national understanding” that cannot be adopted as a policy statement of any Cabinet.
“The resistance’s right to defend Lebanon against the Zionist enemy ... is guaranteed, even though this is not mentioned in the declaration, according to the Taif Accord, which clearly stated Lebanon’s right to take all necessary measures to liberate all its territories from Israeli occupation,” the statement said. It added that commitment to the “Army, people and resistance” equation was essential for any policy statement of the next Cabinet.