BEIRUT: Former Prime Minister Saad Hariri said Monday he was driven by his worries about Lebanon drifting into instability to join Hezbollah in a coalition government with the aim of containing a long-simmering political conflict after the March 8 coalition backtracked on its demand for veto power.
He also said the March 14 coalition, led by his Future Movement, would nominate a candidate from its ranks to run in the presidential election, scheduled for May, thus dismissing the possibility of a neutral or centrist candidate.
In a wide-ranging interview with Future TV, Hariri said Hezbollah and its March 8 allies would not have veto power in a new Cabinet, and pledged not to compromise over the Future Movement’s rejection of the party’s tripartite defense formula of the Army, the people and the resistance.”
He spoke days after attending in The Hague the Special Tribunal for Lebanon’s trial in absentia of four Hezbollah members indicted in the 2005 assassination of his father, former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.
“What happened in The Hague is a very big issue that might cause a major problem in the country. Do I act with my heart only or with mind? Therefore, I have said there are deep-rooted differences with the March 8 side, particularly with Hezbollah,” Hariri said in the interview conducted at his residence in Paris.
He cited three major contentious issues with Hezbollah: the party’s military intervention in Syria on the side of President Bashar Assad’s forces, the party’s arsenal and its protection of the suspects involved in his father’s assassination.
Hezbollah has refused to hand over five party members suspected of involvement in Hariri’s killing.
Hariri scoffed at charges that his agreement to share power with Hezbollah in a coalition government was designed to cover the party’s military involvement in Syria. “We definitely will not cover Hezbollah’s participation in Syria. This participation brought fire to Lebanon,” he said.“We are against a blocking third [veto power]. We support the rotation [of ministerial portfolios]. I reject outright the tripartite formula and I will never compromise on this matter,” Hariri added.
He said he supported the Baabda Declaration, which calls for distancing Lebanon from regional and international conflicts, particularly the conflict in Syria, to replace the tripartite formula in the Cabinet’s policy statement.
Hariri’s remarks come amid rising hopes that a new Cabinet based on an 8-8-8 lineup could be formed this week, ending a 10-month-old deadlock.
“The new Cabinet will serve for two, three or four months until a new president is elected,” he said, adding that he had to reciprocate the March 8 alliance’s retreat from its demand for a 9-9-6 Cabinet in which the March 8 and March 14 camps would be granted veto power.
Referring to the wave of car bombings that struck Beirut, the southern suburbs and the northern city of Tripoli recently, incidents directly linked to the war in Syria, Hariri said: “The people want a government. The country can no longer endure because of the tense situation. My duty is to find an equation to emerge from the painful situation ... We want to halt the collapse.”
“Participation [with Hezbollah] in the government [is designed] to contain the conflict, even though Hezbollah did not withdraw from Syria and put the differences at the Cabinet table,” he said. “We are proceeding positively and they [March 8] also say the same ... I am trying to find a window to pull the country out of this predicament.”
“Today, a glimmer of hope emerged over the Cabinet formation even though there are major differences between us and them [March 8],” Hariri said. “For us, we enter the Cabinet to contain the conflict at the Cabinet table, but at the same time we want to care for the people’s interests.”
Hariri also denied he was abandoning his allies in the March 14 camp and moving toward a four-way ruling political alliance made up of Hezbollah, Amal, the Progressive Socialist Party and his Future Movement.
“We have an open dialogue with our allies [in the March 14 alliance] in which we inform them of the steps we are taking and the reasons behind them,” he said. “Only death can separate me from my allies in the March 14 coalition.”
While stressing the strong bonds between him and Lebanese Forces chief Samir Geagea, Hariri urged his longtime ally to reconsider his stance over the Cabinet formation. “I urge Samir Geagea to reconsider his position on this issue [the Cabinet] because we all have our concerns,” he said. “But no one should think that I will abandon Samir Geagea or vice versa, and our position is the same.”
In an interview with France’s Europe1 radio station earlier Monday, Hariri said Assad had most likely given the order for the assassination of his father. He also said he would return to Lebanon for the parliamentary elections scheduled in November.
Hariri also reiterated his accusation that Assad was behind the assassination of former Minister Mohammad Shatah in Beirut in December.
Asked why international justice was a long process, Hariri said: “Because over a period of 50 years there was impunity in Lebanon. This is the first time that the international community has established a process of justice for Lebanon, in the Arab world, in order to end political assassinations.”
“Justice never forgets or forgives. I want justice, not to forgive or forget.” - With additional reporting by Thomas El-Basha