BEIRUT: The parliamentary Future bloc warned Tuesday that an intra-Lebanese National Dialogue would be futile unless the divisive issue of Hezbollah’s arms was addressed at the next session.
The bloc, which said it would attend the next Dialogue session set for June 25, slammed Hezbollah’s renewed accusations of treason against former Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, saying they sent “negative signals” about the aims of some March 8 parties in National Dialogue sessions.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Najib Mikati hailed the outcome of the first Dialogue session between rival political leaders in over 18 months, saying it had laid the foundations to insulate Lebanon from “the policy of regional and international axes and conflicts aimed at sparing it the negative repercussions of tensions and crises in some Arab states.
“This matter has again confirmed the correctness of the policy adopted by our government in what is known as the ‘dissociation policy.’
“This encourages us to proceed with this policy in the interest of Lebanon and the Lebanese,” Mikati said, addressing a Cabinet meeting he chaired at the Grand Serail, according to a statement read to reporters by Information Minister Walid Daouk.
Since the uprising began in Syria 15 months ago, the government has adopted a policy to dissociate Lebanon from the repercussions of the turmoil in the neighboring country.
Mikati said the resumption of Dialogue and the statement issued after the meeting also constituted “a positive message from inside Lebanon to the outside world which is following with interest what is happening here.”
The convening of Dialogue, Mikati added, “boosts Arab and international confidence in our capability to overcome difficulties and safeguard our country and people and the achievements that have so far been made.”
He said that Tuesday’s Cabinet meeting was held on the eve of the first year since it was formed on June 13.
Thanking the ministers for their efforts in the past year, Mikati called for increasing Cabinet productivity, Daouk said.
Among decisions taken by the Cabinet was the appointment of three judges, Joseph Samaha, Anthony Issa Khoury and Naheda Khaddaj, to the Judicial Council, Daouk added.
A Cabinet session, scheduled to be held at Baabda Palace Wednesday to discuss the draft 2012 state budget, has been put off because Finance Minister Mohammad Safadi fell ill, a ministerial source said.
Mikati also praised the rival leaders’ commitment to avoid fiery political and media rhetoric, saying such a move would help bolster calm in the country.
His remarks came a day after political leaders from the March 8 and March 14 camps agreed during their first National Dialogue session in over 18 months to commit themselves to political, security and media pacification, as well as avoid speeches that fuel sectarian incitement.
Amid growing fears of a spillover of the turmoil in Syria into the country, they also pledged to work to shore up stability and civil peace in order to prevent Lebanon from descending into sectarian strife.
However, Monday’s Dialogue session did not discuss a national defense strategy and how to benefit from Hezbollah’s arsenal as widely expected in line with Sleiman’s invitations to the leaders.
A statement issued after the meeting said a national defense strategy would be a main topic of discussion at the next Dialogue session on June 25.
Referring to the Dialogue session, the Future bloc of former Prime Minister Saad Hariri said in a statement issued after its weekly meeting chaired by Siniora: “The main issue left from previous dialogue sessions, Hezbollah’s arms, has not been addressed yet. This issue will be the topic on the agenda of the next [Dialogue] session. Unless this issue is addressed, Dialogue will be futile.”
In a clear allusion to Hezbollah’s renewed accusations against the Siniora government in 2005, the bloc said: “Some attitudes that surfaced during the session by some parties revived directly or indirectly the language of treason, threats and intimidation and sent many negative signals about the aim of these parties from [attending] these sessions.”
The four-hour session chaired by President Michel Sleiman at Baabda Palace was marred by a heated debate between Siniora and Hezbollah MP Mohammad Raad after the former blamed the government for a series of deadly security incidents in the north and the proliferation of arms across the country.
The Future bloc upheld the March 14 memo, dubbed a “salvation initiative,” it presented to Sleiman last week. The memo reiterated the March 14 coalition’s call for the formation of a neutral salvation government, stressed commitment to the Taif Accord and U.N. resolutions and called for keeping Lebanon away from regional conflicts.
Beirut Future MP Ammar Houry said his bloc would attend the next Dialogue session to discuss the thorny issue of arms beyond the state’s control.
“Of course, we [Future Movement] will attend,” Houry told The Daily Star. “Surely we’ll go to the meeting since President Sleiman has promised that the next Dialogue session will discuss the only issue left: weapons.”
Sleiman had called for the resumption of National Dialogue, suspended since November 2010, in light of deadly sectarian clashes in the northern city of Tripoli that killed at least 25 people in incidents linked to the turmoil in Syria.
Sleiman’s invitation call has won strong backing from Arab and Western countries which have voiced concerns over Lebanon’s stability.
Meanwhile, Mikati reiterated the government’s policy of not allowing Lebanon to be used as a base for the smuggling of arms or insurgents into Syria.
“We will not allow Lebanese territory, or parts of it, to be used as a conduit for smuggling weapons or gunmen [into Syria] or to establish a buffer zone or an environment where terrorism, extremism or the like could flourish,” Mikati said, addressing army officers during a visit to the Defense Ministry.
He added that the Army was carrying out the government’s “disassociation” policy toward the Syria crisis.
Speaking after meeting with Defense Minister Fayez Ghosn and Army commander Gen. Jean Kahwagi, Mikati said National Dialogue was the only choice for the Lebanese to reach agreement on divisive issues.
“Everyone must facilitate the continuation of this Dialogue no matter what the circumstances are because the alternative is fighting, estrangement and artificial boundaries that were sometimes drawn with blood,” he added.
Mikati praised the Army’s role in maintaining security and stability in the country, fighting terrorism and exposing Israeli spy networks.
Noting that Lebanon was facing “many dangerous challenges,” Mikati underlined the significance of maintaining stability and national unity in order to “enable Lebanon to overcome this critical stage in its history.”
Meanwhile, U.N. Special Coordinator for Lebanon Derek Plumbly praised the resumption of the National Dialogue, but expressed concern over the recent security incidents in north Lebanon.
“The United Nations warmly welcomes the National Dialogue session launched by President Sleiman and the declaration issued after it, which represents a major step at the national level to promote calm,” Plumbly said after meeting Tripoli and Mount Lebanon Mufti Sheikh Malek Shaar.
“All efforts to bring political players together are very important for Lebanon, and the only way to resolve differences,” he added. – With additional reporting by Nafez Qawas