BEIRUT: Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri ruled out the possibility of discussing the issue of Hezbollah’s weapons in any future national dialogue sessions, as March 14 lawmakers maintain that the divisive issue is the single remaining item that needs to be addressed.
“Whoever wants to portray the dialogue as a means to discuss Hezbollah's arms is mistaken since their agenda is clear and it is best we don't try to outsmart each other,” Al-Manar quoted Berri as saying Friday night.
Berri’s remarks comes only a few days after the speaker held talks with former Prime Minister MP Fouad Siniora, who heads the opposition Future Movement parliamentary bloc, on the need to revive national dialogue sessions, a proposal that was first put forward by President Michel Sleiman following the formation of the Cabinet in late June.
Since his meeting with Berri Wednesday, Siniora has placed conditions on resumption of all-party talks, namely that agreements arrived at during previous sessions be implemented, including those relating the Special Tribunal for Lebanon, the removal of arms from the outside the Palestinian refugee camps and the demarcation of the Lebanese-Syrian border.
He also said that the only remaining topic to be discussed was Hezbollah’s weapons.
However, Berri said during the interview that he had advised Siniora to think before giving a response for the dialogue calls.
The speaker also said that his reasons for wanting to revive national dialogue and his support for Sleiman’s calls to restart the all-party talks stemmed from for external and not domestic factors.
“I think we are in dire need for dialogue at present. And if some think that the reasons ... are purely domestic ones, then I would like to assure [them] that my reasons this time stem from external [factors],” he said.
During his interview with Al-Manar, Berri also echoed remarks by his allies in the Hezbollah-led March 8 coalition that the only strategy capable of defending the country was the tripartite formula of the “the army, the people, and the resistance.”
“They [Mach 14 politicians] should take it from me. [The strategy] is the tripartite formula of ‘the army, the people, and the resistance,’ and they can rearrange [the order] whatever way they choose.”
Although the speaker did not elaborate further on the external factors, Berri said that his focus today was on the U.S. troop withdrawal from Iraq, saying: “[My eye] is on what a loser might do to export sectarianism to compensate for [his] losses.”
Asked whether he was afraid of a possible attack from Israel against Lebanon, Berri said he was not afraid at all, but that “we should not dismiss” such threats either.
Berri, who heads of the Amal Movement, also spoke about the controversial issue of funding the Special Tribunal for Lebanon, which in late June indicted four members of Hezbollah of involvement in the 2005 assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.
“Democracy ensures the right to propose anything for a vote in Cabinet, and whoever wants to put it for a vote in Parliament then they are welcome to do so,” Berri said.
Hezbollah and its allies hold the majority in Prime Minister Najib Mikati, who has repeatedly voiced support for paying Lebanon’s $32 million share of the U.N.-backed court’s budget.
“Western democracy has its advantages and the legal frame is clear and the issue is not related to the funding, which is a partial matter. It is related to whether or not it is constitutional and related to its establishment,” Berri told Hezbollah’s Al-Manar.
March 8 lawmakers maintain that the tribunal was not established via a vote in Parliament, but during dialogue sessions.