Lebanon News

President, March 14 prep for National Dialogue

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: President Michel Sleiman has put the final touches on his vision for a national defense strategy, as the March 14 coalition set down its own conditions for taking part in next week’s scheduled session of National Dialogue.

Baabda Palace sources said Sleiman has completed the outlines of his presentation on the topic, but declined to divulge the details of what the president will tell participants at the session, which he will host next Tuesday.

Sleiman Wednesday held a meeting with former Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, on behalf of the March 14 coalition, to discuss the upcoming session.

Siniora raised three chief issues during the meeting, the sources said.

They said Siniora demanded that Hezbollah official Mohammad Raad retract his remarks, made earlier in the week, that it was premature to discuss a national defense strategy.

While Hezbollah has steadfastly refused to discuss the issue of handing its weapons over to the state, it was hoped that National Dialogue would at least touch on a more politically acceptable topic, namely a national defense strategy, but Raad’s comments have worked to dispel even this hope.

Siniora also insisted on guarantees of safety for March 14 politicians, in the wake of this month’s assassination attempt against Batroun MP Butros Harb. He demanded that the National Dialogue session tackle the issue of setting down a mechanism to implement decisions.

This has been a chief demand of March 14 politicians and others, who have long complained that the National Dialogue process has no way of enforcing decisions even when participants agree on a given issue.

The next session of dialogue will be followed a day afterward by Sleiman’s hosting of a Ramadan iftar, and this event is expected to provide an important forum for the president to comment on domestic issues, as well as highlight the importance of Lebanon’s policy of disassociating itself from the crisis in Syria.

The sources said Sleiman was planning to devote a considerable amount of time to discussing the fallout from a series of street protests, which have degenerated into blocking main roads. He will also stress that politicians should realize the critical situation the country is experiencing.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on July 19, 2012, on page 3.




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