BEIRUT: President Michel Sleiman’s expected visit to Saudi Arabia is aimed at confirming strong Lebanese-Saudi ties and showing the presidency’s concern that these ties remain as they are now, political sources close to Baabda Palace said Wednesday.
Sleiman, currently in New York attending the U.N. General Assembly’s sessions, is scheduled to fly to Saudi Arabia later this week on an official visit for talks with national officials on the monthslong political crisis in Lebanon and the repercussions of the war in Syria on the Mediterranean country’s security and stability.
Sleiman’s Saudi visit comes two days after Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah criticized Saudi Arabia and Bahrain for the first time in clear terms.
Therefore, the sources said, it is normal for Sleiman’s visit to be viewed as an official Lebanese response that runs contrary to Hezbollah’s opinion on Saudi Arabia and its policies in the region or toward Lebanon.
The sources said Sleiman’s talks with senior Saudi officials were likely to touch on the situation in the region, particularly developments in Syria and the security and economic repercussions for Lebanon.
Although Sleiman will also discuss with Saudi officials the six-month-long government crisis, Baabda sources cautioned against jumping to the conclusion that a Cabinet lineup might be announced following the president’s meetings in Riyadh.
The sources said the momentum toward the formation of a new Cabinet had been subdued by the wide gap between the country’s political parties over the shape of the government.
In a development signaling that the Cabinet formation is not imminent, the sources cited a clarification issued by presidential sources that Sleiman did not set the beginning of October as a date for the issuance of the Cabinet lineup decree as was reported by several local and foreign media outlets.
Political sources said that recent statements made by Speaker Nabih Berri, Nasrallah and Free Patriotic Movement leader MP Michel Aoun about the Cabinet crisis would make Sleiman’s mission difficult.
He will not be able to form an all-embracing government, an 8-8-8 Cabinet or any other formula without the approval of the Amal-Hezbollah coalition and its ally Aoun.
Despite the major and effective role played by Saudi Arabia in the region, particularly in Lebanon, the Baabda sources said it was unlikely for the kingdom to support or encourage the formation of a Cabinet that could spark a new crisis instead of helping to resolve the current problems.
Referring to Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s expected visit to Riyadh in the first half of October, the sources said the results of Saudi-Iranian talks might affect the course of the Cabinet situation in Lebanon.
In the event of a Saudi-Iranian agreement, the sources said the current proposals, which have failed to break the Cabinet deadlock, would not remain on the table.
There would instead be a chance to reach a formula satisfactory to all the parties that would lead to the birth of a new government.
Although the Baabda sources were not informed of Sleiman’s talks with U.S. President Barack Obama in New York Tuesday, they said regional capitals were the ones who would decide whether there was really an Arab-Western understanding to help neutralize Lebanon from neighboring conflicts.
Sleiman met separately Wednesday with Rouhani, Turkish President Abdullah Gul and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov at the U.N. building in New York, the National News Agency reported. He also met Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad al-Thani at the Qatari Embassy in New York.
Sleiman and Rouhani discussed bilateral ties and the situation in the region. Rouhani affirmed Iran’s support for Lebanon’s stability and praised Sleiman’s efforts to consolidate stability in the country, NNA said.
The Iranian president condemned the car bombings that struck in Beirut’s southern suburbs and the north last month, saying he stood against extremism and encouraged moderation.
Rouhani said he was keen to have good relations with brotherly and friendly states and renewed his country’s stance that called for a peaceful solution in Syria, according to NNA.Lavrov informed Sleiman that Russia would give Lebanon $5.6 million to help it accommodate Syrian refugees, the NNA said.
Addressing the General Assembly Tuesday, Sleiman urged the international community to provide Lebanon with funds and resources to help it meet the humanitarian needs of more than a million Syrian refugees in the country.