BEIRUT: Rival ministers failed Tuesday to make any headway in their talks on the Cabinet’s policy statement as attempts were underway to find a compromise over the divisive issues of the Baabda Declaration and the resistance, ministerial sources said.
Tuesday’s was the fifth session held by the seven-member ministerial committee assigned to draft the policy statement since Prime Minister Tammam Salam announced a 24-member Cabinet on Feb 15.
During the meeting chaired by Salam at the Grand Serail, March 8 and March 14 ministers continued to spar over whether the Baabda Declaration should be adopted as the main document in the policy statement, replacing the controversial tripartite formula of the “Army, the people and the resistance” as demanded by the March 14 coalition.
President Michel Sleiman is insisting that the Baabda Declaration be adopted in the policy statement, and his stance was backed by the March 14 ministers in the committee.
The declaration, approved by rival March 8 and March 14 leaders in 2012 at Baabda Palace, calls for distancing Lebanon from regional and international conflicts, particularly the nearly 3-year-old war in Syria.
In addition to their support for the Baabda Declaration, March 14 ministers demand that the issue of the resistance be placed under state authority, thus denying Hezbollah the right to use its arsenal at will against any Israeli attack as had happened in the past.
For their part, March 8 ministers from Hezbollah and the Amal Movement, which are represented in the committee, rejected the Baabda Declaration as well as the March 14 proposal that calls for placing the resistance under state control, a March 8 ministerial source said.
Instead, the Hezbollah-led March 8 coalition is demanding a clear text in the policy statement that stresses the right of the Lebanese to the resistance against Israeli occupation by all available legitimate means, the source added.
This falls short of the March 8 coalition’s insistence in the past on the “Army, the people and the resistance” formula upheld by Hezbollah and its allies as the best strategy to defend Lebanon against a possible Israeli attack. The formula had been adopted by previous governments.
In a bid to reconcile the two conflicting stances, Health Minister Wael Abu Faour presented a formula during Tuesday’s meeting that gives priority to the Baabda Declaration at the expense of the core and concept of the March 8 proposal concerning the resistance, the March 8 source said.
Finance Minister Ali Hasan Khalil from Speaker Nabih Berri’s parliamentary bloc implicitly rejected Abu Faour’s proposal, saying it was not ripe and needed further discussions.
Behind-the-scenes contacts are being held between Amal and Hezbollah ministers and Abu Faour in an attempt to find a formula on the resistance acceptable to the March 8 coalition, the source said.
The source added that the March 14 coalition must make concessions over the Baabda Declaration as the March 8 group offered to budge on the “Army, the people and the resistance” formula.
The committee’s failure to make any progress in the Cabinet’s policy statement prompted it to schedule another session at 5 p.m. Wednesday.
March 14 committee member Telecommunications Minister Boutros Harb said efforts were underway to find a solution to the resistance issue.
Speaking to reporters after the meeting, Harb said committee members tended to take positive stances with a view to reaching a solution. “But this solution has not been reached yet,” he said.
Meanwhile, Sleiman voiced hope the Cabinet’s policy statement would be finalized and approved before the International Support Group for Lebanon’s meeting in Paris set for next week.
“Finalizing the policy statement and winning Parliament’s confidence before the Paris conference would make the implementation of the conference’s resolutions easier, especially since two other conferences will be held by the international group in Italy and Germany,” Sleiman said, according to a statement released by his office.
He spoke during a meeting with a delegation of ambassadors of the ISG member countries.
“The Paris meeting is aimed at assessing what was achieved by the support group meeting in New York [in September],” Sleiman said.
He added that the conference should also outline “the necessary measures to support Lebanon at the political, economic and military levels.”
“It should also address the issue of Syrian refugees in Lebanon,” he said.
The support group was inaugurated in September 2013, on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly. It aims to mobilize support for Lebanon and its institutions, and to help the country address the influx of Syrian refugees.
U.N. Special Coordinator for Lebanon Derek Plumbly also expressed hope that the Cabinet’s policy statement would soon be finalized.
He spoke to reporters after he and ambassadors of the ISG for Lebanon met Sleiman and Salam to prepare for the group’s meeting in Paris.
“We briefed the prime minister on the work of the ISG to mobilize support for Lebanon’s stability, sovereignty and state institutions, and on advocating for assistance to Lebanon in areas where it is most affected by the Syrian crisis,” Plumbly said after meeting Salam.
He added that the ISG participants issued a statement on Feb. 15 “warmly welcoming the formation of the new government and looking forward to working closely with Prime Minister Salam and his government in the months ahead.”
“The statement highlighted the need for the government to act effectively without delay. I and my colleagues therefore expressed the hope that the current Cabinet discussions on the ministerial statement will soon come to a successful conclusion,” Plumbly said.