BEIRUT: President Michel Sleiman raised hopes Monday that a new government could soon see the light this week, saying all major obstacles had been overcome, in the strongest signal yet of an end to the 10 months political deadlock in Lebanon.
“There are no more obstacles. We have started putting the final touches on the new Cabinet and the end of this week will be decisive,” Sleiman said in a brief chat with reporters after making an address to foreign diplomats at Baabda Palace.
“All political parties are finally convinced of the principle of rotating ministerial portfolios,” he added, referring to reports last week of opposition by MP Michel Aoun to the key March 14 demand to ending the impasse over the Cabinet formation.
Sleiman said although he had yet to decide on the Cabinet line-up that the Foreign Ministry post should always be in step with the president's positions "as the latter represents the state's foreign policy.”
Lebanon’s 10-month-old Cabinet deadlock recently witnessed signs of a breakthrough after former Prime Minister Saad Hariri voiced willingness to take part in a government with Hezbollah and after an 8-8-8 Cabinet lineup gained support of most the country’s political rivals.
Despite the optimism, Sleiman reiterated his warning that he would move ahead with the formation of a neutral government in the event efforts to form an all-embracing government failed.
"I will not allow [Lebanon] to reach May 25 without a government. If the formation [process] is obstructed then all possibilities are available including a neutral Cabinet,” he said.
The president's six-year term ends on May 25.
The Hezbollah-led March 8 coalition has repeatedly voiced opposition to the formation of a neutral government, warning that such a step would have negative consequences on the country.
Speaking to diplomats at the Presidential Palace, Sleiman called for international efforts to help keep Lebanon distant from the conflict in neighboring Syria.
“We are looking to active international initiatives to encourage internal parties and influential states to distance Lebanon from regional conflicts through adherence to the Baabda Declaration,” Sleiman told diplomats during a ceremony on the occasion of New Year.
He said that Lebanon had been damaged by the turmoil in Syria and was looking forward to a political solution to end the nearly three-year-old crisis.
“Lebanon’s national path has suffered serious setbacks since 2011 due to the negative repercussions of the continuing calamity in Syria on our political, economic and social situation,” Sleiman said.
“The domestic arena also witnessed a remarkable rise in sectarian tension and gradual involvement in the armed conflict on Syrian territories ... particularly with the growing flow of Syrian and Palestinian refugees ... all of which have coincided with the return of terrorist bombings across Lebanon.”
“Lebanon is particularly concerned with finding a consensual political solution that restores stability and preserves the unity of the neighboring country,” he said.
“I hope that such a political solution will allow the return of Syrians to their homes and that the rehabilitation of the country is launched as soon as possible,” he said.
The president said that Lebanon would reiterate its stance against any military involvement in Syria during the Geneva II peace conference on Syria due later this week.
Despite an agreement between Lebanese rivals to distance Lebanon from the Syrian conflict, Hezbollah made public last year its military intervention in Syria on the side of President Bashar Assad.
Sleiman also reiterated his keenness on holding the presidential election due later this year on time.
“I will exercise maximum efforts to ensure the appropriate circumstances for holding the presidential election in a democratic and calm manner,” Sleiman said.
The president has repeatedly said he opposes an extension to his term in office which ends in May 2014.