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The Daily Star
FRIDAY, 18 APR 2014
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Promising signs from Tehran and Riyadh over Cabinet
Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif arrives at the Syrian parliament building for talks with Syrian officials in Damascus January 15, 2014.   REUTERS/Khaled al-Hariri
Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif arrives at the Syrian parliament building for talks with Syrian officials in Damascus January 15, 2014. REUTERS/Khaled al-Hariri
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Although the start of trials for the Special Tribunal for Lebanon Thursday has diverted some attention away from efforts to form a government in the country, negotiations are ongoing, giving rise to a positive but cautious atmosphere.

Sources familiar with the issue told The Daily Star that communication between all parties remained open, as significant progress was being made in deliberations to form an all-embracing government. Speaking on condition of anonymity, the source said two factors could help the new government see light soon.

The first of these is the position taken by Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif during his visit to Lebanon earlier this week. Zarif said his country was interested in improving ties with Riyadh in order to preserve peace in the region, adding that Iran supported the efforts being made by Lebanese politicians to form a government.

The sources added that Zarif’s visit to Tammam Salam signaled his direct support for the prime minister-designate.

He also praised President Michel Sleiman for creating a political atmosphere conducive to the formation of the government and boosting security and stability in Lebanon.

The second factor, the sources said, was information indicating that Saudi Arabia supports the establishment of an all-embracing Cabinet in Lebanon.

The sources also commented on the visit made by caretaker Social Affairs Minister Wael Abu Faour to Saudi Arabia Monday evening on behalf of Progressive Socialist Party leader Walid Jumblatt immediately following Zarif’s trip to Lebanon.

The sources said Abu Faour’s meetings with Saudi officials focused on finding a solution to the ongoing Cabinet stalemate during this trying time, as the country faces security, political and economic crises.

Political sources told The Daily Star that Saudi intelligence chief Prince Bandar bin Sultan and Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal were tasked with following up on the situation in Lebanon under the indirect supervision of King Abdullah bin Abdul-Aziz.

The sources said the Saudis were coordinating with their Lebanese allies, especially former Prime Minister Saad Hariri, in order to ensure that the Future Movement sticks to its principles, as it will likely join a new government alongside Hezbollah.

The sources added that Saudi Arabia was not so much interested in the makeup of the Cabinet, but rather in its policy statement. The kingdom wants to ensure the statement does not include a clause stating that Lebanon has the right to liberate territories occupied by Israel with its “Army, Resistance and people.”

Mentioned in the policy statements of previous Cabinets, the phrase effectively legitimizes Hezbollah’s arms.

The sources added that the kingdom was interested in including the Baabda Declaration of June 2012 in any policy agreement as a prelude to Hezbollah withdrawing fighters from Syria. Agreed upon by rival political parties, the pact calls for distancing Lebanon from Syria’s civil war.

Should more positive developments emerge, Saudi and Iranian support for an all-embracing government will be joined by Russian backing. Other political sources said that Hariri tasked former Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, who heads his Future parliamentary bloc, with discussing the details related to the Cabinet formation in a bid to reach a compromise.

Hariri’s move comes after the March 8 coalition went back on its demand for veto power and voiced support for rotating key ministerial portfolios among sects as well as discussing the Cabinet’s policy statement.

Hariri recently met Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in Paris. During the meeting, Lavrov stressed that Lebanon should continue to maintain stability and highlighted the need to form a government to preserve order in the country.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on January 16, 2014, on page 4.
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Story Summary
The second factor, the sources said, was information indicating that Saudi Arabia supports the establishment of an all-embracing Cabinet in Lebanon.

The sources also commented on the visit made by caretaker Social Affairs Minister Wael Abu Faour to Saudi Arabia Monday evening on behalf of Progressive Socialist Party leader Walid Jumblatt immediately following Zarif's trip to Lebanon.

Political sources told The Daily Star that Saudi intelligence chief Prince Bandar bin Sultan and Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal were tasked with following up on the situation in Lebanon under the indirect supervision of King Abdullah bin Abdul-Aziz.

The sources added that Saudi Arabia was not so much interested in the makeup of the Cabinet, but rather in its policy statement.
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