Lebanon News

Sleiman to convene National Dialogue late March

President Michel Sleiman heads the National Dialogue meeting in Baabda, Thursday, Sept. 20, 2012. (The Daily Star/Mohammad Azakir)

BEIRUT: President Michel Sleiman is expected to resume the National Dialogue at the end of month in order to continue discussions on the national defense strategy, Information Minister Ramzi Joreige said Tuesday.

“The president will call for a National Dialogue session before he travels to Kuwait and will convene the session following his return at the end of the month,” Joreige told The Daily Star.

A source close to Sleiman said the president would schedule a date for the Dialogue committee after Parliament discusses the policy statement this week.

The sessions would “exclusively” discuss the national defense strategy.

The last Dialogue session was held on Nov. 12, 2012 when Sleiman proposed a national defense strategy that would allow Hezbollah to keep its arms but place them under the command of the Lebanese Army, which would have exclusive authority to use force.

The arms of the resistance would be used by the state until the Army can take over all defense responsibilities.

In 2012, the government approved a five-year plan worth $4.4 billion to provide the Army with weapons and to gradually build up military capability.

All rival groups participated in the last Dialogue round except for the Lebanese Forces, which boycotted the Dialogue over Hezbollah’s military involvement in Syria.

Hezbollah has argued that the party would surrender their arms when the Lebanese Army is ready to impose security nationwide and fend off Israeli aggression.

Speaking on the fate of Prime Minister Tammam Salam’s Cabinet, Joreige, a retired Kataeb Party member, also said that the group would most likely withdraw its threat to quit over “ambiguity” in the policy statement.

“During separate meetings between the Kataeb and the prime minister and the president, [officials] provided the group with reassurances over their rightful concerns,” Joreige said, voicing confidence that the issue would be resolved very soon.

“I personally expect a positive result from the Kataeb meeting today at 5 p.m.,” he added.

The minister also said that the Cabinet would receive a “sweeping majority” of the vote of confidence in Parliament after the legislative branch convenes this week to discuss the Cabinet’s policy statement.

On Saturday, the Kataeb Party threatened to withdraw its three ministers from Salam’s government unless the “dangerous ambiguity” over the state’s authority was resolved, claiming that the clause pertaining to the resistance “undermined state sovereignty.”

The current policy statement emphasizes the “right of Lebanese citizens to resist Israeli occupation, repulse its attacks and recover occupied territories.” It also stressed “the state’s responsibility in liberating lands still occupied by Israel.”

Sleiman met earlier in the day with a Kataeb delegation headed by former President Amin Gemayel at Baabda Palace where they discussed the policy statement and the group's concerns.

Sleiman said the government's policy statement was in line with the president's inaugural address, the Baabda Declaration and the defense strategy.

"Discussion on the [defense] strategy will resume ... especially since the Army received an exceptional Saudi grant [to arm the military] and in light of the upcoming conference in Italy to support the Army,” Sleiman said, according to his office. "The Cabinet requires the participation of all its members to apply this statement."





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