BEIRUT: Speaker Nabih Berri said Wednesday that he would be flexible during upcoming policy statement talks if his rivals did the same, while insisting that including the resistance in the political blueprint was a matter of principle.
“If some [parties] show flexibility in discussing the policy statement, we will be more flexible to help facilitate its approval,” Berri was quoted as saying by lawmakers attending his weekly meeting with MPs at his Ain al-Tineh residence.
“But at the same time we stress that our stance on the resistance is a matter of principle. It is a fixed stance rather than a tactic. It [the right to resistance] continues to be approved by international conventions.”
Although Prime Minister Tammam Salam was finally able to form his national unity government last month, the ministerial committee he chairs has held eight sessions and has still not agreed on the government’s policy statement. It has until March 16 to accomplish its task, when the 30-day period to approve a policy statement will expire.
March 14 members of the committee demand that the issue of resistance be placed under state authority, thus denying Hezbollah the right to use its arms at will against any Israeli attack as has happened in the past. Hezbollah and its March 8 allies reject this demand.
Hezbollah and Berri, who leads the Amal Movement, have vowed not to budge on the inclusion of the resistance clause in the Cabinet’s policy statement. The committee is scheduled to meet again Friday.
“Unfortunately, what Israel has done and continues to do in terms of violations of and aggression against Lebanon is not drawing enough attention, despite the fact that these violations occur almost daily and target [Lebanon’s] land, sea and airspace,” Berri was quoted as saying.
Berri also touched on the internal and external challenges confronting the new government, particularly what he called Israel’s threat to Lebanon’s maritime oil resources.
“We will not give in even one drop of our oil resources and we will work on benefiting from this wealth with all our strength,” Berri said, according to MPs attending the meeting.
“Defending our land, sovereignty and wealth requires us to adhere to our ... strength, with the right to resistance and our Army in the forefront,” Berri added.
For his part, Zafer Nasser, secretary of the Progressive Socialist Party, said an agreement over the policy statement could still be achieved.
“The issue is not impossible and it is possible to reach a consensus formula that satisfies all groups,” Nasser told a local radio station.
Nasser added that the PSP would carry on with its efforts to facilitate the process.
PSP leader MP Walid Jumblatt and Berri helped encourage a compromise that led to the formation of Salam’s government last month.
Future Movement MP Ammar Houri said his group could not abandon its demand for the resistance file to be placed under the authority of the state.
“Confronting the Israeli enemy is out of question and nonnegotiable. But the main issue being discussed now is the state authority, which we can never relinquish,” Houri told a local radio station. “I think the time has come to put the resistance under the authority of the Lebanese state.”
Houri said he was not pessimistic regarding the possibility of reaching an agreement over the policy statement, adding: “We should all finish drafting the policy statement within the constitutional period so that the government can start its work.”
Also Wednesday, media reports emerged that U.S. Ambassador to Lebanon David Hale is due to travel to Saudi Arabia later this week to help resolve the policy statement crisis.
Separately, former Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, who heads the Future Movement parliamentary bloc, received Iranian Ambassador to Lebanon Ghazanfar Ronkabadi at his office, according to the National News Agency.
The NNA said the two officials discussed developments in Lebanon and bilateral relations.