BEIRUT: Prime Minister Najib Mikati Tuesday again offered to step down if his government’s resignation would help resolve the current political crisis.
However, he warned that the resignation of his government, a major demand of the opposition March 14 coalition, would plunge the country into a bigger crisis in the absence of an agreement by the rival political parties on a new Cabinet.
“If my resignation opens the door to a [new] problem in the country, I will not resign. But if my resignation opens the door to a solution, I’ll put my resignation on the table,” Mikati said in an interview with LBCI TV from Paris.
“I am the biggest advocate of a [Cabinet] change. But before I resign, I want to know where the country is headed,” he added.
“If the Cabinet is changed, will the crisis end in Lebanon? Wasn’t there a crisis inside the previous Cabinet and the one before it?” he asked. “The crisis exists in Lebanon and we must engage in dialogue to solve it. If the government resigns, we will enter into a big crisis.”
Mikati, currently on a three-day official visit to France, said Lebanon was facing three dangers: Syrian, Iranian and Palestinian dangers. “We are in the eye of the storm. Shall we further complicate the situation with an internal crisis?” he asked.
Mikati reiterated that the March 14 coalition’s demand for the formation of a new Cabinet could be discussed at a new session of National Dialogue which President Michel Sleiman has been trying to convene to discuss the political crisis sparked by last month’s assassination of police intelligence chief Brig. Gen. Wissam al-Hasan.
But he rejected March 14 calls for the formation of “a neutral salvation Cabinet,” saying there are no neutral politicians in Lebanon.
Responding to repeated calls by the March 14 parties for his government’s resignation, Mikati said: “I have said I am not clinging to my post and I am for a Cabinet change. I was the first to call for a Cabinet change. But today it’s an issue of [serving] the country’s interests. If I resigned and the [same] majority formed the Cabinet, what would have we done?”
He called on the rival factions to agree at the Dialogue table on the formation of an “extraordinary Cabinet” that can handle a new election law and oversee next year’s parliamentary polls.
“In this difficult period we must agree on a unity Cabinet in order to pass this stage after which elections could be held,” he said.
Referring to March 14 leaders who have refused to attend any National Dialogue session before the government’s resignation, Mikati said: “We call on them for a quiet dialogue to see where the country is headed and how we shall form a [new] Cabinet. We need a Cabinet change. But what comes after the resignation?”
He said that he, Sleiman and Progressive Socialist Party leader Walid Jumblatt had a united stance inside the government on how to approach a solution for the political crisis.
“No solution except through dialogue,” Mikati said.
He renewed his offer to cooperate with the March 14 parties to discuss ways to resolve the crisis and protect Lebanon. He said there was no link between the 2013 parliamentary elections in Lebanon and the 20-month-old bloody conflict in Syria.
He added that his top priority was to protect Lebanon against security threats and tensions emanating mainly from the turmoil in neighboring Syria.
“The priority is to preserve the country and for me to appear as a statesman who can maintain stability and protect the country,” Mikati said.
He reiterated his government’s commitment to the policy to dissociate Lebanon from the reverberations of the Syrian crisis. “My main concern is for Lebanon to pass this stage,” he said. Arab and Western countries have voiced concerns for stability and a power vacuum in Lebanon following the opposition’s calls for the government’s resignation in the wake of Hasan’s assassination. The March 14 coalition has also announced a total boycott of the government and all Cabinet-related meetings in Parliament as part of its moves to pressure the government into resigning.
Mikati criticized the March 14 boycott of Parliament, saying that Speaker Nabih Berri had formed “a safety valve” to carry out all projects.
He said the government was committed to holding next year’s elections on time. “No one can say the elections will not be held. Any Cabinet in power must carry out this constitutional event according to the law in force,” he said.
Mikati said there was no interest for Lebanon to slide into a new civil war, adding that Lebanon should not be part of any regional alliance.
Asked to comment on Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah’s call for opening borders in Arab countries to send arms to the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, which has been subjected to devastating Israeli airstrikes since last week, he said: “This is political rhetoric. The [Lebanese] border will not be opened. This [sending arms to Gaza] will not happen via Lebanon.”
Mikati said in his talks with French Prime Minister Jean Marc Ayrault and Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, the two officials praised his government’s dissociation policy on the Syrian crisis.
Mikati, accompanied by a number of ministers, is due to hold talks with President Francois Hollande at the Elysee Palace Wednesday on the political crisis in Lebanon and ways to protect the country from the Syrian conflict’s repercussions.
Earlier Tuesday, Mikati met in Paris with Fabius, who reiterated his country’s support for stability and dialogue among the rival Lebanese factions.
“France does not interfere in internal Lebanese affairs but supports complete stability in Lebanon and stresses the importance of avoiding any [power] vacuum,” Fabius said during the meeting with Mikati, according to a statement released by the prime minister’s office.
Fabius also renewed France’s support for the Lebanese government’s policy to dissociate Lebanon from the reverberations of the conflict in Syria.
“We do not interfere in your internal affairs but we encourage you engage in dialogue. We support the dissociation policy you have adopted to spare Lebanon the repercussions of the events going on around you,” he said, clearly referring to the unrest in neighboring Syria.
“We consider this policy as logical and essential given the current circumstances in the region,” Fabius added.
The French minister promised his country’s aid to help Lebanon cope with the influx of thousands of Syrian refugees fleeing the violence in their country.
“We are aware of the efforts you are making regarding helping Syrian refugees in Lebanon. We will support you in this framework,” Fabius said.
“The friendly relations between Lebanon and France were and will remain strong. We will support you in all fields,” Fabius told Mikati. He added that France would support the continued presence of the U.N. peacekeeping force in southern Lebanon to maintain stability in the region.
Media reports have said Mikati will address the issue of Syrian refugees in Lebanon and ask for France’s help in providing aid to the refugees, especially considering that their numbers have climbed to 118,633, according to the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees.