Lebanon News

March 8 to attend, March 14 indecisive on National Dialogue

FILE - Rival political gather meet for another round of National Dialogue at Beiteddine Palace, Mount Lebanon, on Thursday, Aug. 16, 2012. (The Daily Star/Mohammad Azakir)

BEIRUT: Key opposition March 14 politicians have yet to inform President Michel Sleiman whether they will participate in this week’s National Dialogue session, while most March 8 officials told The Daily Star Monday that they will take part.

While the Future Movement remains undecided on whether to attend the meeting Thursday at Baabda Palace, Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea announced that his party will continue to boycott the dialogue sessions until Hezbollah is willing to discuss national defense seriously.

“Developments on the ground are still the same: Hezbollah is still not ready to sit at the dialogue table to discuss the national defense strategy,” Geagea told MTV in an interview.

“Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah has the same stance and since the dialogue is between the March 14 and Hezbollah, there won’t be any results,” Geagea said.

“I wish the dialogue about arms was with Prime Minister Najib Mikati or Speaker Nabih Berri, but it’s not. They [Hezbollah] are not the ones with arms,” he added.

Geagea also said that the opposition’s participation in the National Dialogue sessions would mean that it would have to share blame for the failures of the current government.

“Is this dialogue to cover the situation of the country and the problems facing the government?” he asked

“We do not want to be responsible since we are not part of the government,” Geagea said.

“Whether we like it or not, the National Dialogue table is a sort of a political gathering,” Geagea added.

Geagea’s allies in the coalition have participated in the recent Dialogue sessions called by Sleiman, the most recent of which was held in August at the president’s summer residence at Beiteddine Palace.

As of Monday evening, officials in the Future Movement were still undecided on whether to take part in Thursday’s session.

“The Future Movement will decide in the coming days whether to participate in the all-party talks,” Beirut MP Nabil De Freige said.

But MP Jamal Jarrah, another member of the Future Movement, described any Dialogue session as “pointless” given the recent declarations about the presence of Iran’s Republican Guard in Lebanon.

“What is the point of National Dialogue if Iran’s Revolutionary Guard are the decision makers?” he asked.

Jarrah said that the remarks of Revolutionary Guard commander Maj. Gen. Mohammad Ali Jaafari on the presence of members of his force in Lebanon and Syria “confirmed what is already known.”

“We are aware that those who lead Hezbollah’s military wing and oversee it are the Iranian Revolutionary Guard,” the West Bekaa MP said.

On Sunday, the Iranian Revolutionary Guard commander said that high-level members of his elite special operations unit, the Quds Force, were present in Syria and Lebanon but only to provide “counsel.”

After Sleiman called on Iran to clarify the statement of Jaafari, Iran’s ambassador to Lebanon denied Monday that members of Revolutionary Guard were present in the country and said Jaafari was referring strictly to the situation in Syria, according to the president’s press office.

Meanwhile, even some within the March 8 coalition have not reached a decision on their participation in the Dialogue session that is set to discuss Hezbollah’s arms and a national defense strategy.

Officials at the Marada Movement were unable to confirm whether Marada leader Sleiman Franjieh would attend the session.

The last National Dialogue session took place without Marada leader MP Sleiman Franjieh and Amal Movement leader and Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri.

Leaders who attended that session posponed any decisions on a national defense strategy due to Berri’s absence.

While aides close to Berri said that security reasons were behind his absence, Marada officials blamed politicians for their lack of seriousness on the Dialogue.

Health Minister Ali Hasan Khalil said that the Amal Movement confirmed that Berri would take part because the movement supports the Dialogue called by Sleiman.

“We are always with Dialogue and Speaker Berri will participate in the upcoming session,” Khalil said as he walked out to a break during Monday’s Cabinet session at the Baabda Palace.

Change and Reform MP Farid Khazen said that Free Patriotic Movement leader Michel Aoun would also attend the all-party talks.

“We have not changed our position on the Dialogue; we will definitely participate in the upcoming session,” Khazen said.

Progressive Socialist Party leader Walid Jumblatt will also participate, a PSP official said.

“We are supposed to take part. We support the Dialogue sessions because we consider them important,” said the official, who requested anonymity.

Meanwhile, Geagea’s ally Kataeb Party leader Amin Gemayel reiterated that his party will not boycott National Dialogue sessions.

“It won’t be right if we boycott any Dialogue session,” Gemayel said at a news conference.

“The country is in great need of Dialogue sessions and it is in Hezbollah’s interest to be open for discussion during the Dialogue,” he added.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on September 18, 2012, on page 3.




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