BEIRUT: The Free Patriotic Movement is enthusiastic to improve ties with its erstwhile opponent the Future Movement, according to party officials, with some even saying that high-level talks between the groups was in the offing, an optimism not shared by Future MPs.
A senior FPM official said Wednesday that he believed it was possible to hold a meeting that could bring together FPM leader Michel Aoun and former Prime Minister Fouad Siniora or even former Prime Minister Saad Hariri, the leader of the Future Movement.
“I believe there will be a high-level meeting [between the FPM and the Future Movement],” Antoine Nasrallah told The Daily Star. “I think both groups have the will to improve ties, but I believe restrictions are being placed on the Future Movement from its allies.”
The Future Movement is allied to the Lebanese Forces, a staunch rival of the FPM.
Last October, the FPM decided during a conclave to adopt a policy of openness toward all political parties regardless of policy differences in a bid to facilitate a resumption of activity in Parliament and other state institutions.
The following month, MPs from the FPM and the Future Movement broke the ice during a meeting in Parliament and agreed to keep contact.
Ties between both political parties have significantly deteriorated in the past years. The FPM is allied to Hezbollah, a bitter rival of the Future Movement. When Hariri left Lebanon in spring 2011, Aoun said during a news conference that he had bought Hariri a “one-way ticket,” in reference to his wish that Hariri would never come back to Lebanon.
The Future Movement is also a staunch critic of the performance of caretaker Energy Minister Gebran Bassil, Aoun’s son-in-law.
It is only since last autumn’s conclave that relations have improved, Nasrallah said.
Naji Hayek, another FPM official, said that officials from the FPM and the Future Movement had toned down their rhetoric against each other in media recently, adding, “This move was supported by us and them.”
Hayek said that any party would have a false impression of another group if they never met, “But actually there is always common ground between people. I think we are on the right track.”
Hayek voiced hope that a government would soon be formed so that ties between the FPM and the Future Movement could improve further. Prime Minister-designate Tammam Salam has been unable to put together his government for over 10 months, and a recent burst in activity appears to have come to nothing.
Hayek would neither confirm nor deny media reports that Aoun met Hariri in January in Rome.
However, Future Movement officials do not share the FPM’s view of the situation. Future MP Jamal Jarrah said he didn’t expect a high-level meeting soon between Future and FPM officials, pointing to a number of unresolved issues between the groups.
“During the meeting between MPs of both groups in Parliament, we tried to establish a base for discussions. We posed a number of questions to our colleagues in the Free Patriotic Movement on their stances on Hezbollah’s involvement in Syria, on the state’s monopoly of arms and on how to build a state,” Jarrah said. “We were hoping that we would receive answers but we didn’t.”
Jarrah said that the FPM had not asked for another meeting, adding however that the Future Movement was always ready to sit down with the party for talks.
Bassem Shab, another MP from the Future bloc, said that while he had no idea about the status of relations between the FPM and the Future Movement, he was told that Aoun was saying good things about the Future Movement in private.
This change in attitude is convenient, Shab suggested, given that there is just over a month before the start of the constitutional period to elect Lebanon’s new president, a position that Aoun hopes to fill.
The constitutional period to elect the new president begins on March 25, two months prior to the expiry of President Michel Sleiman’s term.