BEIRUT: President Michel Sleiman expressed hope Monday that the newly-appointed Government would waste no time in drafting its policy statement, with the Cabinet scheduled to convene its first session at Baabda Palace Tuesday.
Chaired by the president, the Government session is slated to begin at 11 a.m. and will focus on the formation of a ministerial committee to draft the ministerial statement, which is expected to be a major sticking point.
The March 14 coalition insists on including the Baabda Declaration in the statement and removing the tripartite formula of the “Army, the people, and the resistance.” Hezbollah and its allies maintain that enshrining the resistance in the Government statement is necessary for the protection of Lebanon.
Sleiman’s remarks came as Prime Minister Tammam Salam officially assumed his duties at the Grand Serail where he held talks with U.S. Ambassador David Hale and British Envoy Tom Fletcher.
Salam heads the 24-member Cabinet of “national interest” which was announced Saturday after 10 months of political deadlock, the longest in Lebanon’s history.
Sleiman said the Cabinet should begin its duties immediately to compensate for the long delay in forming the government, which, he said, had paralyzed the executive branch.
“I think the unified efforts that contributed to the [Cabinet] formation will continue throughout the next phase, because [these efforts] presented the country in a positive light, especially when leaders reach a consensus,” he said, according to his office.
Speaking after his first meeting with Salam as prime minister, Hale described the talks as positive, reiterating U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry’s remarks in welcoming the formation of the government, which has yet to win a vote of confidence in Parliament.
He also said Washington was ready to work with Salam, advance bilateral relations, and help Lebanon face its many challenges, including maintaining neutrality in the face of the war in Syria and addressing the refugee crisis.
“Foremost among the challenges are promoting Lebanon’s policy of dissociation from the conflict in Syria, ending terrorist acts and violence, helping Lebanese communities cope with the refugees from Syria, and protecting the opportunity for the Lebanese to choose their own leaders, as president and in Parliament, freely, fairly, on time, and in accordance with Lebanon’s constitution,” Hale said in a statement.
The U.S. envoy added that the purpose behind the creation of the International Support Group for Lebanon was to assist Lebanon to overcome these obstacles.
“Through upholding the Taef Agreement and Baabda Declaration, and fully implementing UNSCRs 1701 and 1559, Lebanon’s political leaders and the international community can best help the Lebanese people meet those challenges and bolster peace, stability, prosperity, and freedom here,” Hale said.
Speaking to reporters after his meeting, Fletcher said he conveyed U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron's personal congratulations to Salam, saying agreement among rival politicians was a sign that the leaders aim at confronting division and extremism.
"There is no time to waste and we should all work to achieve what the Lebanese aspire to: stability, independence and a bright future," he said.
Maronite Cardinal Beshara Rai dispatched Bishop Bulos Sayyah to congratulate Salam on the government formation.
After his meeting with the prime minister, Sayyah said he presented to Salam Bkriki's National Charter which the Maronite Church drafted earlier this month.
Meanwhile, Progressive Socialist Party leader MP Walid Jumblatt said he hoped the new Cabinet would be able to defuse tensions in Lebanon.
“We hope the government will help organize political disputes by taking transferring them from the streets to the Cabinet,” Jumblatt said in his weekly column published by the PSP-affiliated al-Anbaa website.
“Although [political] disputes have become deeply-rooted, we can help alleviate them by toning down the political rhetoric until the circumstances more amenable to reaching solutions on pending issues,” he explained.
Jumblatt also said the new government should work to hold the presidential election on time and to confront the security risks facing the country.
“One of the main missions of the new Cabinet is to prepare the right atmosphere for staging the [presidential] elections by the constitutional deadline in order to avoid a [power] vacuum [in the presidency],” he said.
Jumblatt added that such a vacuum would be “a harsh blow to our democratic system.”
“The government must also tackle the terrorist and security threats facing Lebanon by increasing coordination between the various security agencies and the Army,” the PSP leader said.