RABIEH, Lebanon: In an exclusive interview with The Daily Star, the Free Patriotic Movement leader said the resignation of some ministers in the Cabinet was a possibility in light of the recent assassination of a top intelligence chief in a car bombing. What follows are excerpts from the interview.
Q: Developments turned the country’s situation upside down last week –will the Cabinet respond to calls for its resignation after the assassination of Brig. Gen. Wissam al-Hasan?
A: It would be very hard for the Cabinet to resign now. The reason being the difficulties in forming Cabinets and that the country cannot bear a [political] void. What happened [Hasan’s assassination] constitutes a security setback, but if there was a vacuum, maybe the country would be chaotic without officials and the average [time] for forming a government, unfortunately, has been six months and up.
Q: How about Prime Minister Najib Mikati’s remarks about suspending his resignation and the president’s position?
A: This has to do with principles. The president is aware of his ability to form a new Cabinet and he knows such governments cannot be formed quickly. And to have a void is a bad thing; a caretaker Cabinet cannot serve like a Cabinet that enjoys the trust of Parliament.
Q: Doesn’t the current security situation call for a specific settlement, given that one side is calling for Cabinet’s resignation and the recent security incident Sunday?
A: If we think back to 2006, a million-and-a-half went down and the sit-in lasted a year and six months, but people remained peaceful and there was nothing: The Cabinet went about its work ... until the events of May 7 , and even then the Cabinet didn’t resign and then there was room for talks and you had the Doha summit and solutions were reached.
Q: How will you act toward the March 14 coalition?
A: It is March 14, with its conduct, that has blocked dialogue. I made an early address in which I recommended how the atmosphere should be and with regret everything that occurred was the opposite of what we suggested, which complicated things: When someone refuses to talk to you and [former] Prime Minister Fouad Siniora [makes] demands, it’s like you have a form of blockage. We were surprised: The funeral should have been separated from the objections and the manner it was put forward.
Q: If the funeral took place normally and the sit-in was peaceful, could the government have resigned and a new Cabinet been formed?
A: No, the president was going to hold discussions around convening a national [dialogue] committee, but I think this won’t take place.
Q: So there won’t be dialogue?
A: We want a return to calm. If we sit at the table to talk, there needs to be a certain atmosphere.
Q: [Former Prime Minister Saad] Hariri called on his supporters to vacate the streets and to adopt peaceful forms of protest. Does this make a difference?
A: The primary mobilizer [is no longer Hariri and Siniora]. What happened yesterday, what happened today in Tariq al-Jadideh and the Palestinian camps proves that the primary mobilizing source is no longer Hariri and Siniora ... What happened at the Grand Serial was caused by Siniora’s provocative speech, as well that by a journalist, but its continuation today shows there are other forces.
Q: Who are these other forces?
A: Where is the mobilization going on? In Tariq al-Jadideh and the Palestinian camps. The Palestinians have entered as a side.
Q: So who are you accusing?
A: I am not accusing anyone, I am just describing the situation.
Q: I mean who do you accuse of being behind the Hasan’s assassination?
A: We can’t determine a specific side and we can’t rush to accusing a particular side. There may be an apparent suspect, but this apparent suspect might not be responsible.
Q: When you say an apparent suspect are you talking about Syria?
A: They [March 14] are talking about Syria. I think under the current circumstances, Syria does not have the ability.
Q: March 14 is directly accusing Syria, and they are linking the discovery of a bomb plot to Hasan’s killing.
A: This is what is apparent. I am not excluding this possibility, but I am saying under the current circumstances I don’t think Syria still has this ability.
Q: Could we regard these as Syria’s final blows against Lebanon?
A: Nothing is clear at the moment ...
Q: What about your relationship with Syria and support for it?
A: I am being misunderstood when I talk about my understanding about the Syrian crisis ... What I am saying is that the international situation, the balance of forces and the ability to mobilize, all of these indicate that the Syrian regime will continue. I don’t say the Syrian regime will fall. Some people will interpret this that I have a desire for the regime not to fall or lack of a desire.
Q: So you don’t have a desire for the regime to remain or go?
A: No, when I look at Arab regimes, I think [Syria] is the closest to a democratic system, I am not ashamed of saying this. Here you have the freedom to dress the way you want, you have freedom of expression ... Article 8 of [Syria’s] constitution that gives the Baath Party exclusivity was canceled. He [Bashar Assad] also voiced support to dialogue ... but he was always met with rejection. But he, in turn, has allies in the Brics countries. Not all of them are involved in the issue ... but they all support a particular Russian policy. This equation, the economic and political situation of Europe and America will not allow them to give more support and this means the Syrian administration will continue.
After a year and eight months of the conflict there has been nothing decisive and there have been many casualties so they will need to go back to a solution that [keeps] the current regime. Of course there will be changes, but the solution will not be with the fall of the regime or that one side prevails over the other.
Q: Could we not see the formation of a national unity or salvation Cabinet?
A: If we took the right course, it is possible.
Q: So there is hope?
A: It won’t happen with confrontation. It needs to be done through consensus. The fighting between rivals needs to stop. They should use the language of dialogue. They should recognize that there is a crisis that we need to get out of and we need to find a solution to it. Then we can begin constructive dialogue.
Q: Are you willing to put your hands in the hands of March 14?
A: For the sake of saving Lebanon, you know I harbor no hatred in politics.
Q: Could you discuss your relationship with Hezbollah?
A: We have an understanding that is available in the memorandum ... We are still committed to it.
Q: And your relationship with Walid Jumblatt?
A: He is defining his relationship with us. He is allied with our political opponents.
Q: So you consider him being in an alliance with your opponents?
A: Of course.
Q: Has Jumblatt left the alliance with March 8?
A: He says he is independent.
Q: He says he is independent, but at a certain stage he leaned more toward one side, and yesterday [Sunday] he didn’t participate in the funeral.
A: This is the wind: the fluctuations of the wind.
Q: Wissam al-Hasan thwarted an attempt to bring in explosives into Lebanon.
A: Do you know all the details of this crime? Therefore let us wait.
Q: But preliminary investigations are showing that there was a Syrian role.
A: There may be a different role.
Q: What other role?
A: So long as we haven’t seen the investigation we can’t say. ... I keep saying I will wait for the result of the investigation.
Q: Those who regard themselves as being targeted, have they the patience to wait for the results of the investigations? There are some probes that last years; some that don’t produce anything.
A: So what do they do? Do they go out and kill one or two innocent people?
Q: No, but they consider that when they call for the toppling of the government, they are in a sense getting some justice.
A: Maybe someone will resign, but not the Cabinet.
Q: So someone inside the Cabinet might resign?
A: If Lebanese know how responsibilities are set, who resigns or who doesn’t – I don’t tell them who will resign. I know who will resign from the government, but I don’t want to say.
Q: So someone might resign from the government.
A: Maybe. If so, it would have to be in security, someone responsible for security, particularly given the case of Hasan, he was even responsible for my own security. He was the Information Branch that warns MPs and officials; he sees the intelligence whether there is a risk to someone’s life, he warns them, he warned MPs, he warned [police chief Ashraf] Rifi once because he has to look after security.
Q: Is there a possibility that the interior minister will resign?
A: Yes, it is possible, but this is in response to your question. I am not calling on him to resign.
Q: Were there suggestions or discussions on this.
A: Maybe some people proposed the issue of resignations given that Mikati [Saturday] talked about resignation. Maybe there was talk about resignation.
Q: Was there specific talk about the resignation of the interior minister?
A: No, I don’t have that information.
Q: Is there anything official that he might resign?
A: No. Anyone could resign.
Q: This international support to the Cabinet, how can we describe it? Today, five ambassadors met Mikati and Plumbly was there, and they voiced support to the government, can’t another side come and say you are America’s government in Lebanon or the West’s government?
A: They aren’t asking anything that harms us but the opposite: They are warning us of the dangers, of what could happen if there is a vacuum. Of course for them they see it is in their interest not to have a Lebanon that is unstable.
Q: So what can happen to calm the situation in the country?
A: The situation of the country is not one of collapse. There was a crime, there were objections and protests, but this isn’t a collapse.
Q: What about the appearance of weapons on the street?
A: This was immediate anger to the killing, which is natural. What it is not natural is that it continue ... They will have to accept what happened and wait for the investigation.
Q: March 14 is calling for peaceful sit-ins.
A: So long as it is peaceful, it is fine. Yesterday, Siniora’s speech was very provocative ... and no one said anything to him.
Q: Is there a possibility that there will be a National Dialogue session.
A: Everything is possible in politics.
Q: If there was a national dialogue session and the sides sat down and agreed to form a national salvation or unity government and the government resigned, is this possible?
A: If so, the government would be formed and replace the other one.
Q: Will elections take place given the current situation?
A: Of course, we have many martyrs ... life needs to continue for the living.
Q: And the election law?
A: That’s why there are always discussions until we reach an agreement.
Q: Can there be a settlement and a salvation Cabinet formed?
A: Let’s see if there are conditions. This can’t be decided by one side. There needs to be two sides that discuss and agree.