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Salam eyes exit if final policy push fails

File - Prime Minister Tammam Salam heads the ministerial committee meeting at the Grand Serail in Beirut, Friday, Feb. 28, 2014. (The Daily Star/Mahmoud Kheir)

BEIRUT: Prime Minister Tammam Salam is considering resignation if last-minute talks fail to break the deadlock over the government’s policy statement, political sources told The Daily Star Wednesday.

The Cabinet will convene Thursday in a bid to achieve consensus over the policy statement in the wake of the failure of the ministerial committee tasked with drafting the political blueprint.

The sources said that talks to achieve a breakthrough could take place prior to the session on the sidelines of a lunch hosted by President Michel Sleiman in honor of visiting Finnish President Sauli Niinisto. The event will be attended by Salam, the sources said, and Speaker Nabih Berri could be on hand as well.

March 8 and March 14 committee members are deadlocked over how to mention the resistance in the policy statement.

The Hezbollah-led March 8 alliance insists that the policy statement stipulate that Lebanon and the Lebanese have the right to resist Israeli occupation and defend the country against any Israeli aggression, effectively legitimizing Hezbollah’s arsenal.

But the March 14 group argues that resistance against Israel should take place under the authority of the state and that Lebanon rather than the Lebanese should have the right to resistance.

The committee has until March 17 to finalize its task, or else Salam’s government will technically be considered resigned.

The sources said Salam might resign if no agreement is reached, adding that the premier feels as if he has been stabbed in the back by the March 8 and March 14 coalitions.

Health Minister Wael Abu Faour visited Sleiman as part of efforts to reach a solution.

Speaking to a local media outlet, Abu Faour said: “The solution lies in a clause that each side can explain as it pleases.”

The sources said that a speech former Prime Minister Saad Hariri is due to make Friday to mark the March 14 coalition’s ninth anniversary would indicate whether a breakthrough is possible.

Meanwhile, MPs attending Berri’s weekly meeting with lawmakers at his Ain al-Tineh residence quoted him as saying he would not accept dropping “a single letter from the word resistance.”

Berri, a key ally of Hezbollah, was quoted as saying: “We remember very well the destruction inflicted on the south by Israel and the displacement of its people. We also remember how in 1982 the enemy invaded Beirut, the first Arab capital it occupied after Jerusalem.”

The speaker said all Lebanese knew that the Shebaa Farms and the Lebanese sector of the village of Ghajar were still occupied by Israel and this was mentioned in U.N. Security Council Resolution 1701.

He said everybody also knew that the Kfar Shuba hills remained under Israeli occupation, adding that Lebanon could not even benefit from all its share of water in the Wazzani River due to Israeli threats.

“Isn’t the government a government of national interest? This national interest in particular is embodied in our adherence to resistance out of our eagerness to protect our water and oil resources, along with deterring aggression and preserving sovereignty,” Berri was quoted as saying.

For his part, Sleiman said there was no justification for the delay in drafting the policy statement given that an agreement was reached among rival political parties on joining Salam’s government. “It [drafting the policy statement] has become the responsibility of politicians now,” Sleiman added, addressing Lebanese Army personnel at their barracks in the southern city of Tyre.

“There is no one who is against certain terms. No one is saying: ‘I am against the Army, or against the Baabda Declaration or against the resistance ... what is the dispute over then?” he asked.

Sleiman said some groups in Lebanon had got involved in the civil war in neighboring Syria without considering Lebanon’s interests.

Nabil de Freij, the minister of state for administrative development, said resignation would be the only option for Salam if no agreement was reached during Thursday’s session.

“Parliamentary deliberations will be held then and a [new] prime minister will have to be nominated. But I believe a new government will not see light of day even after 10 months,” said de Freij, also an MP from the Future parliamentary bloc.

“Why does the other side get irritated if it was mentioned in the policy statement that [only] Lebanon has the right to resistance?” de Freij said, adding that Lebanon included the state, the people and the Army.

“They insist on mentioning that the Lebanese also have the right to resistance. This, if approved, means that every single Lebanese has the right to carry arms under the pretext of resistance.”

Separately, Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov reiterated his country’s support for the Baabda Declaration, which calls for Lebanon to be distanced from regional conflicts, particularly the Syrian civil war.

“During our meetings here in Moscow with Lebanese and non-Lebanese delegations, we said it is useful and logical that we and our friends in the region spread the principles of the Baabda Declaration ... not only in Lebanon, but in surrounding countries as well,” Bogdanov told Future TV in an interview aired Wednesday evening.

“The principle of refraining from meddling in the internal affairs of your neighbors is a logical issue that merits interest and respect.”

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on March 13, 2014, on page 1.

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Summary

Prime Minister Tammam Salam is considering resignation if last-minute talks fail to break the deadlock over the government's policy statement, political sources told The Daily Star Wednesday.

The event will be attended by Salam, the sources said, and Speaker Nabih Berri could be on hand as well.

March 8 and March 14 committee members are deadlocked over how to mention the resistance in the policy statement.

The Hezbollah-led March 8 alliance insists that the policy statement stipulate that Lebanon and the Lebanese have the right to resist Israeli occupation and defend the country against any Israeli aggression, effectively legitimizing Hezbollah's arsenal.

But the March 14 group argues that resistance against Israel should take place under the authority of the state and that Lebanon rather than the Lebanese should have the right to resistance.

This national interest in particular is embodied in our adherence to resistance out of our eagerness to protect our water and oil resources, along with deterring aggression and preserving sovereignty," Berri was quoted as saying.

For his part, Sleiman said there was no justification for the delay in drafting the policy statement given that an agreement was reached among rival political parties on joining Salam's government.


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