BEIRUT: Former Prime Minister Saad Hariri struck an upbeat note on the formation of a new Cabinet Friday, saying he was ready to share power with Hezbollah in a coalition government to help stabilize Lebanon as it faces growing threats to its security from the war raging in Syria.
His optimistic remarks are expected to seal a political deal involving mainly Hariri’s Future Movement, the Hezbollah-led March 8 alliance and MP Walid Jumblatt on an all-embracing government based on an 8-8-8 lineup as a compromise to break the 10-month Cabinet deadlock.
Speaking to Reuters in The Hague, where he is attending the trial in absentia of four Hezbollah members indicted in the 2005 assassination of his father statesman Rafik Hariri, the former prime minister said he was “very optimistic” about reaching an agreement on a Cabinet with Hezbollah’s participation.
“We’re trying to run the country with everyone, because we do not want to keep anyone outside,” Hariri said in an interview late Thursday after attending the opening session of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon at the headquarters in The Hague.
“Lebanon is having a difficult time, especially since the international community has failed miserably to do anything for Syria,” he said. “I think it is our duty toward the people of Lebanon to stabilize the country ... I am very optimistic.”
He denied he made concessions over sharing power with Hezbollah in a government.
Asked why he was willing to work with a group accused of playing a role in his father’s killing, Hariri said he was committed to the principle of “innocent until proven guilty.”
“We know that they are allegedly persons who committed these crimes ... But at the end of the day, this is a political party that has a big coalition, with Aoun’s [MP Michel Aoun Free Patriotic Movement] and other political parties,” he said.
Hezbollah, which denies involvement in Hariri’s assassination, has dismissed the STL as an “American-Israeli project” designed to incite sectarian strife in Lebanon. The party has refused to hand over the five Hezbollah members indicted in the Hariri assassination.
Hariri, who has been living outside Lebanon for more than two years for security reasons, declined to give a date for his return to Beirut.
“Eventually I will return,” the former prime minister said.
“There is a security problem in Lebanon, especially, as you know, the assassination of [former Minister Mohammad] Shatah the year before, and [Wissam] al-Hasan the year before that,” he said, referring to the targets of two car bombs in Beirut in 2013 and 2012. “I don’t want to go back and end up like the others.”
Hariri is expected to talk at length on the Cabinet crisis and explain the reasons that prompted his Future Movement to accept an all-embracing government during an interview with Future TV Monday.
The Future Movement and its March 14 allies have refused to join Hezbollah in any Cabinet before it withdraws its fighters from Syria and abides by the Baabda Declaration.
Likewise, Hezbollah and its March 8 allies have dropped their demand for a 9-9-6 Cabinet lineup, which would grant veto power to the March 8 and March 14 camps, and accepted the 8-8-8 proposal.
Under the 8-8-8 lineup proposed by Speaker Nabih Berri and Jumblatt, the March 8 and March 14 parties would each get eight ministers, with “decisive ministers” allotted for each side among the remaining portfolios set for centrists.
However, despite rising hopes the past few days over the Cabinet formation efforts, a dispute over the policy statement appears to be holding up the formation of the government.
“Negotiations on the Cabinet are progressing, but the problem is still with the policy statement,” former Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, head of the parliamentary Future bloc, said in a statement.
Siniora discussed the Cabinet formation efforts by phone with Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea, who opposes an all-embracing government that includes Hezbollah, the National News Agency reported.
A senior March 8 source told The Daily Star that the rift over the policy statement was impeding the Cabinet formation. While Berri and the March 8 parties want the policy statement to be discussed after the Cabinet formation, the March 14 coalition insists that agreement on the blueprint be reached before the formation.