BAABDA: Lebanon's new Cabinet announced the formation of a committee to draft the government's policy statement following its first meeting at Baabda Palace Tuesday.
The committee includes ministers Ali Hasan Khalil, Mohammad Fneish, Gebran Bassil, Wael Abu Faour, Boutros Harb, Sejaan Azzi and Nouhad Machnouk, and is slated to hold its first meeting Wednesday at 6 p.m. at the Grand Serail.
President Michel Sleiman, who presided over the morning meeting, lauded the new Cabinet lineup.
"President Sleiman said this is one of the best [possible] Cabinet formulas because it includes everybody ... and [because] it was 'made in Lebanon,'” said Information Minister Ramzi Joreige, reading a statement at the end of the meeting.
Sleiman also reportedly stressed the need for the new government to reassert its commitment to the Baabda Declaration, which calls for distancing Lebanon from regional conflicts, particularly the war in Syria.
He expressed hope that the Salam Cabinet would be able to hold timely presidential elections and reach compromises if terms and conditions were cut down, according to the statement.
Sleiman was quoted saying that while the life of this government is short, “there is a lot of work that needs to be done.” The Cabinet's mandate does not exceed the presidential elections, which should take place before May 25.
For his part, Prime Minister Tammam Salam reportedly emphasized that the formation of the government after a 10-month deadlock has had a positive impact on Lebanon.
Meanwhile, signs emerged that rival factions were ready to compromise over the controversial policy statement.
State Minister Nabil de Freij told the Voice of Lebanon before the meeting that “the formulation of the policy statement should not be as difficult as some have been expecting.”
“It will be hard to formulate it [the policy statement] in one session; it might require a few sessions but there is a decision to facilitate the process,” said Freij, a member of the Future Movement.
The session, chaired by Sleiman, started at 11 a.m. and lasted for almost an hour and a half.
Justice Minister Ashraf Rifi was upbeat after the session that a breakthrough in the ongoing political deadlock was near.
“If the atmosphere that we had in today’s session remains as it is for the next four months, this means the country will start finding its way out of [this] crisis,” Rifi told reporters after the session.
The policy statement has been a polarizing issue that could paralyze the government’s work if left unresolved. March 14 has insisted the statement include the Baabda Declaration, while Hezbollah wants to uphold the tripartite formula of "the Army, the people, and the resistance" that has been adopted by previous governments.
Political sources told The Daily Star Monday that the ministerial committee is expected to recommend including both the tripartite agreement of previous policy statements and the Baabda Declaration, as well as several other decisions issued by the National Dialogue Committee.
Once the policy statement has been drafted, Cabinet can go to Parliament to seek a vote of confidence.
Salam announced a 24-member Cabinet of “national interest” Saturday after 10 months of political deadlock, the longest in Lebanon’s history.
Salam met separately Tuesday with European Union Ambassador Angelina Eichhorst and Russian Ambassador to Lebanon Alexander Zasypkin, both of whom expressed support for Salam’s 24-member Cabinet.
“I conveyed to Prime Minister Salam the congratulations of Russia over the new Cabinet formation and confirmed Russia’s ongoing support to Lebanon’s sovereignty and unity,” Zasypkin said.
“We hope that the formation of the national interest government will enhance stability and security in Lebanon, and we support the priorities ... declared by Salam regarding the upcoming presidential election and other issues.”
“We also call for strengthening partnership and developing dialogue between the political forces in Lebanon and we are optimistic about the coming phase,” the Russian envoy said.
Riyadh also congratulated Lebanon on the new Cabinet and reiterated its commitment to the country.
“The formation of the Cabinet is a Lebanese achievement resulting from a united political will to come together,” Saudi Ambassador to Lebanon Ali Awad Asiri said in a statement.
He also expressed hope this positive atmosphere would last, for the sake of Lebanon and its people, and called on Lebanese officials to "seize this opportunity and take serious measures to distance Lebanon from conflicts and violence.”