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March 14 participation in Dialogue unlikely

President Michel Sleiman, right, heads a session of the National Dialogue at the Presidential Palace in Baabda, east of Beirut, Monday, June 11, 2012. (The Daily Star/Mohammad Azakir)

BEIRUT: The March 14 coalition is leaning toward boycotting a National Dialogue session hosted by President Michel Sleiman Thursday as it remains at odds with Hezbollah and its allies over the agenda of the talks.

Former Prime Minister Fouad Siniora told The Daily Star Tuesday that March 14 parties had not yet decided whether to boycott Thursday’s session. Siniora played down media reports earlier in the day that quoted March 14 sources as saying the coalition had decided not to attend the session.

The coalition insists that the Dialogue focus on discussion of a national defense strategy that would replace Hezbollah’s military arsenal in favor of a state-controlled strategy to defend Lebanon against foreign aggression.

Hezbollah maintains that its weapons should remain an integral part of any defense strategy and has repeatedly said it is not willing to compromise its arsenal.

Sleiman initiated the talks with the aim of defusing political tension between the country’s rival camps.

The March 14 coalition will announce its final decision Wednesday, Future Movement lawmaker Ammar Houri told The Daily Star.

“We have demands that remain unanswered, namely regarding the Dialogue’s agenda, which we think should focus on Hezbollah’s arsenal and assert the state’s monopoly over arms in the country,” he said.

“The whole idea behind the Dialogue was to discuss this issue, so it’s pointless to participate in the talks if the agenda is altered,” he added.

But Houri said March 14 is still discussing its participation with Sleiman.

Al-Jadeed television quoted Future Movement sources Tuesday as saying Siniora would soon visit the president at his summer residence in Beiteddine and present him with a list of demands that March 14 considers prerequisites for its participation.

In a statement released by his press office Tuesday, Sleiman stressed the need for intra-Lebanese dialogue in which a defense strategy would be the main topic of discussion.

He said the presidential palace was “the place to discuss all proposals and express ideas and suggestions, while keeping in mind that the main topic is a national defense strategy, according to the original invitation for dialogue.”

The Future bloc said dialogue should be the only way of communication between all Lebanese, stressing that any dialogue should respect the sovereignty of the state and its full authority on security and defense. “Any Dialogue session that does not address the issue of non-state arms will not yield any results,” the bloc added.

Besides discussing Hezbollah’s weapons, March 14 had also demanded that resistance group lift its protection of those suspected of participating in attempted assassinations.

Batroun MP Boutros Harb, who was the target of an assassination attempt in July, said that a Hezbollah security operative ordered to take part in the investigation refused to participate. Security sources have identified the operative as Mahmoud Hayek.

In a speech earlier this month, Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah said a genuine and realistic national defense strategy must be based on coordination between the Lebanese Army and the resistance. He added that in addition to a national defense strategy, Lebanon needed a “national liberation strategy” in order to liberate the Israeli-occupied Shebaa Farms, Kfar Shuba Hills, and the Lebanese part of the border town of Al-Ghajar.

Nasrallah said that the March 14 coalition is not interested in discussing a defense strategy, but only in having Hezbollah surrender its arms.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on August 15, 2012, on page 1.

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