Political sources close to the Cabinet formation process are denying reports of an imminent deal on a new government based on any of the scenarios currently being discussed: one made up of politicians, one based on the 8-8-8 formula, or one in which veto power is wielded by a faction.
The 8-8-8 formula divides the government evenly among March 8, March 14 and centrists. In contrast, the “kingmaker” Cabinet would see one of the sides enjoy veto power, by representing one-third plus one of the Cabinet posts.
The sources said the only time a solution appeared close was during negotiations for creating a neutral Cabinet, but those efforts did not succeed – things have been moving in circles since.
They said that talk of preventing the Hezbollah-led March 8 camp from wielding veto power did not lead to better prospects for government formation, but merely represented a trial balloon, the sources said.
Ironically, the stalemate is highlighted by the very political initiatives that have been periodically launched to resolve the Cabinet formation crisis. The sources said even those who come forward with such ideas know they will not improve prospects, as long as all the political blocs refuse to alter their stances, and as the situation in Syria returns to square one, after American threats of a military strike against Damascus have receded.
The sources said it was best to focus on the negotiations taking place among Washington, Moscow, Tehran and Damascus, arguing that any agreements on this front would have direct implications on Lebanon and the region.
Sources close to Hezbollah’s parliamentary bloc say that the situation on the ground in Syria remains static – Syrian regime forces retain the initiative, but the prospects of a military victory against the opposition are limited in the near future.
In the view of these sources, military operations will continue for the foreseeable future unless the Syrian opposition obtains advanced and effective weaponry and uses it properly, a scenario that could introduce small changes to the equation, but not transform the balance of power.
These sources say that negotiations between the U.S. and Russia, whose details are relayed to Damascus and Tehran, are advancing to the level of creating an agreement and understanding on the situation in Iraq as well as Iranian ties with the Gulf states. They say that negotiations over the situation in Syria between Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry have reached an advanced level.
The U.S. has accepted the notion that President Bashar Assad will remain in office until presidential elections scheduled for 2014, but it rejects his running for the presidency, the sources say.
The sources add that Washington proposed a formula similar to that employed by Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Prime Minister Dmitri Medvedev, namely trading off their posts. Under the plan, Assad would not run in 2014, but would nominate a figure close to the regime. He would then have the right to run in the following presidential election.
Russia rejected the proposal and insisted that Assad should be able to run in 2014, but negotiations between Moscow and Washington on this point are ongoing, the sources said.
The sources added that once there was clarity on the issue of the polls in Syria and Assad’s candidacy, efforts will move toward a general resolution of the situation in Iraq, the Gulf, Syria and Lebanon, adding that the Geneva 2 peace conference on Syria would be held in a positive environment and would result in decisions as conclusive as Lebanon’s Taif agreement.
There will be objections, possibly violent ones, but they will disappear before a joint deal that involves all the major states and forces on the ground.
As for Lebanon, while the security situation remains delicate, high-level security sources highlight the recent, stepped-up coordination among security agencies, with support from political factions.
They say that whoever wants to keep Lebanon an open battlefield for bombings is no longer able to do so, and those who are capable of carrying out attacks do not wish to do so.
They add that occasional security incidents may take place, but whoever carries them out will not be able to ignite strife. The sources said the main security weakness facing Lebanon is the issue of nine Shiite hostages held in Syria for more than a year.
The situation remains deadlocked because the demands of the captors remain unclear, and the position of the Turkish mediators is also unclear – considerable time and effort by the security agencies and in particular Maj. Gen. Abbas Ibrahim, the head of General Security, are required for a solution.