Lebanon News

Sleiman to pitch defense strategy at July Dialogue

Sleiman and Berri have a side chat during National Dialogue session.

BEIRUT: Political leaders called on the government during a National Dialogue session Monday to set up a mechanism for disarming Palestinian groups outside refugee camps and agreed to discuss a platform for a national defense strategy to be presented by President Michel Sleiman in July.

In a statement issued after a nearly four-hour session convened by Sleiman at Baabda Palace, attendees “called on the government to continue implementing the decisions of the National Pact written in Taif and Dialogue decisions related to the Palestinians.”

Attendees called on the government to establish a mechanism to enact the decisions and to form committees to address the socio-economic needs of Palestinian refugees in cooperation with the U.N. Relief and Works Agency and to remove arms outside refugee camps.

They also stressed the need to commit to the statement issued after the previous Dialogue session on June 11, which called for avoiding divisive speeches and rhetoric that fuels sectarian strife, supporting the Army, distancing Lebanon from international and regional conflicts and preventing it from being a base or corridor for the smuggling of arms and gunmen.

The 14 leaders and politicians attending the session agreed to tackle a proposal to be presented by Sleiman in the upcoming Dialogue session on July 24 as a platform for launching discussions on a national defense strategy.

“There is a paper which was forwarded to the president by groups that are not represented in National Dialogue ... it has a number of items that caught the attention of the president and will be a platform to start discussing a defense strategy,” a source close to Baabda Palace who attended the session told The Daily Star.

The source said that all participants in the session presented their opinion on the national defense strategy, adding that the atmosphere was calm.

During the session, Former Prime Minister Fouad Siniora called for implementing decisions agreed upon during previous sessions and for resolving “the problem of Hezbollah’s arms.”

The head of the Future parliamentary bloc called for laying down “a road map and a schedule that leads to putting these arms exclusively under the authority of the Lebanese state.”

He also urged the formation of a national salvation government, whose ministers would belong to neither the March 8 nor the March 14 camps, with the aim of restoring confidence in the government among the Lebanese.

The Cabinet, he said, must address mounting socio-economic, security, national and administrative problems, draft an election law for the 2013 parliamentary elections and supervise the polls and distance Lebanon from regional and international conflicts.

When some leaders raised the issue of the continued occupation of Shebaa Farms, Siniora said that Israel, the Syrian regime and some Lebanese groups worked against a solution leading to its liberation in order to exploit the issue whenever it suits their interests.

He said that an agreement to demarcate the territory’s borders, reached during previous Dialogue sessions, was not implemented.

A Future Movement source told The Daily Star that postponing the upcoming session until July 24 is aimed at buying time for the March 8 coalition.

“The country will be in vacation, there will be no new political initiatives until July 24,” he said.

He said that all Dialogue participants are waiting for the paper to be presented by Sleiman before taking a stance.

Beirut MP Jean Ogassapian, who took part in the talks, told The Daily Star that the session was calm, but said all groups stuck to their stances regarding the national defense strategy.

Ogassapian said it was clear that Hezbollah is not ready to hand over its arms to the state and the party maintains that the resistance is still necessary, as Israel still has hostile intentions toward Lebanon.

Despite the claims by politicians that the session was calm, sources told The Daily Star that a heated argument broke out between Siniora and Raad over Hezbollah’s arms, when the former premier argued that weapons were no longer useful following the liberation of the bulk of south Lebanon in May 2000.

Speaker Nabih Berri intervened, saying that the resistance’s arms are still necessary because Israel is still seeking to steal Lebanon’s offshore oil wealth.

Unlike the previous session, Deputy-Speaker Farid Makari, who is outside the country, did not attend the session and Finance Minister Mohammad Safadi was unable to attend for a second time due to illness.

Sejaan Qazzi, the second deputy-head of the Kataeb (Phalange) Party, said that the dialogue session was successful in form and content.

“In form, the dialogue was calm,” he told The Daily Star. “As for content, for the first time, Hezbollah agrees to discuss its arms, something it has rejected since 2006 ... it started to justify [Monday] why it clings to its arms.” – With additional reporting by Hasan Lakkis

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on June 26, 2012, on page 1.




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