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Is Plumbly secret force behind Cabinet formation?

Prime Minister designate Tammam Salam, right, receives U.N. Special Coordinator for Lebanon Derek Plumbly in Beirut, Friday, Jan. 3, 2014. (The Daily Star/Dalati Nohra, HO)

United Nations Special Coordinator for Lebanon Derek Plumbly played an important role behind the scenes of the recent breakthrough on the Cabinet formation by drawing on his extensive experience and contacts in the region, diplomatic sources told The Daily Star recently. Both Arab and Western sources in Beirut said Plumbly acted according to the prevailing mood in the West, where officials have voiced their concern that the failure to form a new government could throw Lebanon into chaos. A new government is needed, the sources said, in order to preserve Lebanon’s stability and facilitate international support to the country, especially those projects proposed by the International Support Group for Lebanon.

Plumbly himself has reportedly been in contact with several regional and international powers as well as with former Prime Minister Saad Hariri to push toward consensus on the new Cabinet.

Plumbly reportedly met recently with a veteran diplomat to discuss possible solutions to the Cabinet deadlock before jetting off to Riyadh. Shortly after this meeting, a confluence of encouraging factors led observers to declare that a new government was imminent.

These indicators include the visit by Ali Hassan Khalil and Hussein Khalil, political advisers to Speaker Nabih Berri and Hezbollah chief Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah respectively, to President Michel Sleiman; the positive overtures toward Saudi Arabia made by the Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif during his trip to Lebanon, and Hariri’s new openness toward joining a Cabinet that includes Hezbollah.

Plumbly served as British ambassador to Riyadh, and consequently, his strong ties with officials there probably contributed to the success of his mission, the sources said.

Western diplomats have been vocal about their insistence that a new Cabinet be formed, regardless of its exact name or formation.

There is a widely shared perception that only a new government which gives political cover to the security and military forces would be able to stem the rising tide of fundamentalism and violence resulting from Hezbollah’s interference in the Syrian crisis.

Several diplomats said they feared the current stalemate could lead to outbreaks of fighting that could not be contained, citing Tripoli, where local militants began acting out in protest over Hariri’s perceived “flexibility” on joining a Cabinet with Hezbollah.

The diplomats expressed regret over some of the verbal sparring and even insults exchanged between various political parties that might prevent a solution to the crisis and expressed surprise over the recent breakthrough in the formation of the government.

According to one prominent ambassador: “What is required today is wisdom and the ability to rise above narrow interests, and to compromise as much as possible.”

Although the most promising approach lacks the “democratic aspirations” the diplomat would like to see, it would preserve stability at least in the short term until the outcome of Geneva II becomes clearer. Right now, everyone is waiting with bated breath to see if a comprehensive solution might be reached, he added.

“Have mercy on your people and your country,” he concluded, addressing Lebanese leaders.

The sentiment among Western capitals is not much different.

Recent visitors to Paris reported that political circles were abuzz with the possibility of an Iranian-Saudi agreement following Geneva II, which would be reflected in a rapprochement between the Future Movement and Hezbollah in Lebanon. Hariri has already hinted as much when he said he would be willing to enter a government with Hezbollah, while the resistance party has withdrawn its insistence on the 9-9-6 formula.

The officials in Paris reportedly urged Lebanese leaders to make greater efforts toward preventing the country from descending into chaos.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on January 21, 2014, on page 3.

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Summary

United Nations Special Coordinator for Lebanon Derek Plumbly played an important role behind the scenes of the recent breakthrough on the Cabinet formation by drawing on his extensive experience and contacts in the region, diplomatic sources told The Daily Star recently.

Plumbly himself has reportedly been in contact with several regional and international powers as well as with former Prime Minister Saad Hariri to push toward consensus on the new Cabinet.

Plumbly served as British ambassador to Riyadh, and consequently, his strong ties with officials there probably contributed to the success of his mission, the sources said.

Western diplomats have been vocal about their insistence that a new Cabinet be formed, regardless of its exact name or formation.


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