Lebanon News

Officials step up Cabinet formation efforts

Sleiman, left, receives Salam at the Presidential Palace in Baabda, Wednesday, Nov. 6, 2013. (The Daily Star/Dalati Nohra, HO)

BEIRUT: Lebanese officials stepped up their efforts Wednesday in a bid to facilitate the formation of a new Cabinet after ongoing contacts saw a breakthrough in the 10-months-long deadlock.

President Michel Sleiman held separate talks with Prime Minister-designate Tammam Salam and caretaker Social Affairs Minister Wael Abu Faour over the Cabinet formation process at Baabda Palace.

Hours before his meeting with the president, Salam and Speaker Nabih Berri met with Abu Faour who returned Tuesday from a two-day visit to Riyadh where he held talks with senior Saudi officials on the Cabinet formation efforts.

Media reports said the minister, from MP Walid Jumblatt’s parliamentary bloc, carried with him good news that Saudi Arabia did not object to Hezbollah’s participation in the new government.

Sleiman also met with Abu Faour later in the day.

During his weekly meeting with several lawmakers, Berri said he would exhaust all efforts to overcome obstacles facing the formation process.

"If intentions were cleared then we will exhaust every means to find a solution for contentious issues,” Berri was quoted by visiting MPs as saying.

"I look forward for a government that is not only limited to political breakthroughs but also with a reform dimension,” he added.

Hezbollah MP Ali Fayyad said Abu Faour informed Berri that Saudi Arabia had no problem with Hezbollah's participation in the Cabinet, adding that the speaker was still waiting for final answers from Future Movement and the March 14 coalition.

Rival political groups are close to reaching an agreement on an 8-8-8 Cabinet lineup proposed by Speaker Nabih Berri and Jumblatt in which the March 8 and March 14 parties would each get eight ministers, with “decisive ministers” allotted for each side among the remaining eight ministerial portfolios set for centrists.

Although former Prime Minister Saad Hariri, the leader of the Future Movement, has showed positive signs with regards to the proposed government lineup, his allies in the Lebanese Forces and the Kataeb Party has voiced opposition to the all-embracing Cabinet.

Hariri sought to reassure his March 14 coalition rivals Tuesday and consulted by phone with LF leader Samir Geagea and Metn Kataeb Party MP Sami Gemayel on latest developments concerning the Cabinet formation efforts.

Geagea and Gemayel argue that joining a government with Hezbollah provides a cover for the resistance group’s military involvement in Syria.

The March 14 coalition has strongly condemned Hezbollah’s role in Syria and blame the party for recent car bombs in Lebanon linked to the neighboring country.

Future MP Ammar Houri affirmed unity within the March 14 coalition ranks despite difference in opinions over the Cabinet, saying parties have not yet agreed on the ministerial statement.

“[The issue of] whether the tripartite formula of the 'Army, resistance' people' or the Baabda Declaration should be part of the future Cabinet’s policy statement has not been resolved yet," Houri told a local radio station.

“[Political parties] have come a long way to reach common grounds particularly that the other team [the March 8] dropped their demand for a veto power," he added.

The Future Movement-lead March 14 insist that the policy statement should be based on the Baabda Declaration, an agreement signed by rival groups in 2012 to distance Lebanon from regional conflict, particularly the Syrian conflict.

Hezbollah, however, have repeatedly said that its defense strategy, which was adopted by previous Cabinets, is the only means capable of protecting the country from Israeli aggression.





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