BEIRUT: Prime Minister Tammam Salam Tuesday said his government would continue trying to convince Hezbollah to adhere to the country’s disassociation policy, at a news conference concluding his Saudi Arabia visit.
Taking a question about Hezbollah’s role in Syria and the party’s fighting alongside Syrian President Bashar Assad’s forces at a news conference in the Saudi Arabian port city of Jeddah, the prime minister said the party, which he described as being “a partner in the government of national interest,” had endorsed the Cabinet’s policy statement that called for a disassociation policy.
“It is true that between announcement and implementation is a gap or an incomplete space, and it requires attention, and we are working on this with Hezbollah and others so that disassociation will be complete from all levels. This will require more effort, but we will not stop,” he said.
Salam also downplayed a possible presidential vacuum, saying that his government would take charge in the event a president is not elected on time.
“If there is a presidential vacuum, there is no need to fear that power will fall into the wrong hands, for it is at the heart of the Cabinet’s executive authority,” Salam said.
The prime minister voiced hope that a vacancy in the presidency would be avoided and a president elected in line with constitutional deadlines. He said the election was a “domestic issue par excellence,” adding that the matter was at the forefront of the government’s agenda.
He also said that Saudi Arabia was clear in stressing the need for the election to be independent of foreign interference.
Parliament has so far failed to elect a president with the May 25 deadline fast approaching.
Salam held talks earlier Tuesday with Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah bin Abdul-Aziz and Crown Prince Salman bin Abdul-Aziz.
He described the visit to the kingdom as being both a “necessity” and “successful,” adding it was primarily aimed at giving thanks to the kingdom for supporting Lebanon, especially its Army.
Saudi Arabia recently granted the Lebanese Army $3 billion for military equipment. Army Gen. Jean Kahwagi traveled to Riyadh over the weekend to finalize the grant.
Monday evening, Salam met with former Prime Minister Saad Hariri at the latter’s residence in Jeddah. Commenting on the visit at the news conference, Hariri said it was “a natural meeting,” with both officials stressing the need for the presidential election to take place.
Salam also emphasized the need for international aid to help Lebanon cope with the influx of Syrian refugees, who have exceeded 1 million.
“This is a big burden for us all in Lebanon, and it will remain so if we do not receive aid,” he said.
He discussed the possible return of Saudi tourists to Lebanon after their numbers significantly dwindled due to security reasons, saying that their return “began immediately after the return of Saudi Ambassador Ali Awad Asiri to Lebanon,” after a monthslong absence.
He also said that, according to the Lebanese Consulate in Jeddah, a large amount of visa requests had already begun pouring in.
Salam addressed the issue of extremists in Lebanon, primarily from Syria, saying the country “does not tolerate” extremism or any group forcefully imposing power.
“We in Lebanon do not allow for extremism to be present among us, and we will make sure to put an end to it,” he said.
The prime minister said Lebanon was trying to mitigate the repercussions of the Syrian conflict, voicing hope that foreign intervention in Lebanon would be “constructive and positive.”