BEIRUT: The Kataeb Party is expected Tuesday to withdraw its threat to quit the Cabinet following Prime Minister Tammam Salam’s clarifications over the policy statement ahead of a Parliament vote of confidence, political sources said Monday.
“The Kataeb Party’s Political Bureau will meet tomorrow [Tuesday] to decide on retracting its threat to withdraw its three ministers from the Cabinet in light of clarifications made by Prime Minister Salam over the policy statement,” a political source told The Daily Star.
Salam offered clarifications Monday over the government policy statement aimed at appeasing the Kataeb Party, which had threatened to withdraw its ministers unless a clause on the state’s authority in defending Lebanon was modified.
Salam’s move came shortly after he had talks separately with former President Amine Gemayel, head of the Kataeb Party, and his son, Metn MP Sami Gemayel, at the Grand Serail to discuss the party’s reservations over the policy statement that fails to put Hezbollah’s resistance against Israeli occupation under state authority as demanded by the March 14 coalition.
The draft policy statement, approved by the Cabinet last week, stressed “the right of Lebanese citizens to resist Israeli occupation, repulse its attacks and recover occupied territories.” It also emphasized the state’s responsibility in liberating lands still occupied by Israel in south Lebanon.
After hearing Amine Gemayel’s reservations, Salam said the Cabinet’s policy statement has “affirmed commitment to the state’s sovereignty, authority and the unilateralism of its decision-making.”
“The Cabinet has stressed in its [policy] statement the unity of the Lebanese state and its exclusive authority in issues related to the general policy,” Salam told Gemayel, who was accompanied by Kataeb MP Elie Marouni and former minister Salim Sayegh, according to a statement released by the premier’s office.
“The Cabinet has also stressed the state’s responsibility and role in safeguarding the country’s sovereignty, independence and the safety of its sons,” he added.
Salam pointed out that the consensus over the policy statement reached by the rival factions following two marathon Cabinet sessions last week was “an achievement for everyone and ended a phase of negative polarization which consumed a lot of time and effort in favor of an acceptable formula in which there was no winner or loser.”“The [compromise] formula has restored an atmosphere of consensus which reflects positively on the Cabinet’s work,” Salam said.
Gemayel described his meeting with Salam as “cordial,” saying he discussed with the premier the Kataeb reservations over the policy statement with regard to the state’s role in defending Lebanon. He said he would meet President Michel Sleiman soon for the same purpose.
“I hope through all these contacts to get some clarifications and positive responses in order to reassure us as well as the Lebanese public ... and achieve the national interest in line with the slogan of the current Cabinet,” Gemayel told reporters after meeting Salam.
While showing understanding toward Gemayel’s concerns over the policy statement, Salam said it is essential to look forward for the Cabinet to win a vote of confidence in Parliament so that it can get to work and address the people’s “urgent priorities.”
“We look positively to the Kataeb Party’s continued shouldering of national responsibility within the Cabinet,” Salam said. “We are looking forward for the [Kataeb] ministers’ effective contribution toward the desired Cabinet work.”
Speaker Nabih Berri has called Parliament to meet Wednesday and Thursday at 10:30 a.m. to debate the government policy statement ahead of a vote of confidence, which is essential for the 24-member Cabinet to begin its work.
The three Kataeb ministers along with Justice Minister Ashraf Rifi from the Future Movement have voiced reservations over a clause in the policy statement because it fails to link the resistance against Israeli occupation to state authority. Rifi and other March 14 ministers have demanded that the use of Hezbollah’s arms against Israel be put under state control.