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Lebanese president postpones National Dialogue till Aug. 16

  • 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 postponed Monday the National Dialogue that had been scheduled to take place later this week to Aug. 16, citing the need for more time for consultations.

“As a result of contacts and discussions that President Michel Sleiman held with parties of the National Dialogue Committee and in light that more time is needed for discussion, the president decided to postpone the National Dialogue session due [July 24] to Aug. 16 in order to follow up on the subject of the proposed national defense strategy that is on the agenda,” a statement from Baabda Palace said.

The announcement came shortly after the March 14 coalition upheld its decision to boycott the National Dialogue session schedule for Tuesday, citing ambiguities concerning the telecoms data it says authorities need to carry on their probes in cases of attempted assassinations of political figures.

“Based on ambiguities concerning the telecoms data, as well as the two other clauses mentioned in the March 14 statement [of July 19] that until now have not been clearly addressed, [former] Prime Minister Fouad Siniora informed the presidential delegation that the position on boycotting dialogue has not changed,” a statement from Siniora’s office said.

The announcement by the opposition came following a meeting between Siniora and a delegation representing Sleiman who had been trying to convince March 14 politician’s to attend Tuesday’s National Dialogue session.

Last week, the opposition decided to boycott the July 24 session in protest against Hezbollah’s refusal to discuss its arms and the government’s failure to provide security agencies with telecommunications data following abortive assassination attempts targeting the coalition’s key figures.

In its announcement on July 19, the March 14 coalition also cited the need for lifting political cover from wanted people, ensuring immediate and serious protection for threatened March 14 figures and adhering to the Constitution, “which stresses that the state is the only authority to defend Lebanon.”

The decision to boycott the Dialogue session was apparently in response to MP Mohammad Raad, head of Hezbollah’s parliamentary bloc, who last week said it was premature for rival political leaders to discuss a national defense strategy, saying the country had yet to liberate itself from Israeli occupation.

The president last month convened two National Dialogue sessions between leaders of the March 14 coalition and the Hezbollah-led March 8 alliance in an attempt to defuse political and sectarian tensions directly linked to the 16-month turmoil in Syria.

A source told The Daily Star last week that in the third round of National Dialogue Sleiman was likely to present a blueprint containing a summary of ideas and proposals made by Dialogue parties and retired Lebanese Army generals concerning a national defense strategy.

 
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