BEIRUT: With most major political leaders reluctant to speak publicly on Friday, few clues could be gleaned on whether progress on cabinet formation had built on Thursday’s buoyant optimism. Meanwhile as The Daily Star went to press on Friday Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri was supposed to kick off a new round of cabinet talks with party leaders rather than parliamentary blocs.
Meanwhile, Saudi King Abdullah bin Abdel-Aziz will visit Syria this weekend, said Syrian Information Minister Mohsen Bilal, confirming a visit many have linked to unblocking the long-stalled talks on Lebanese cabinet formation.
Hariri’s new round of deliberations will concern the distribution of ministerial portfolios and the nomination of ministers, ahead of his submission of a cabinet line-up to President Michel Sleiman, Future Movement MP Ammar Houri told The Daily Star on Friday.
Hariri was to hold talks with Parliament Speaker and Amal Movement leader Nabih Berri, Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) leader MP Michel Aoun, Hizbullah’s Loyalty to Resistance bloc head Mohammad Raad, Progressive Socialist Party leader MP Walid Jumblatt, Lebanese Forces (LF) leader Samir Geagea and Phalange Party head Amin Gemayel.
Earlier Friday, Hariri held talks at his Downtown Beirut residence with the US and Egyptian ambassadors, Michele Sison and Ahmad Fouad al-Bidawi.
Houri said that all possibilities remained open with regard to the cabinet make-up, adding that Hariri had not – contrary to media reports – proposed during parliamentary talks a cabinet structure based on a mix of technocrats and political leaders.
“The premier-designate did not make such a proposal during his consultations with blocs, as discussions did not tackle the structure of the government nor the issue of portfolios or candidates; nevertheless, some parties came forward with potential suggestions,” Houri added.
The Future Movement MP also said there was no relation between the Saudi king’s visit to Damascus and the timing of the government’s formation, adding that Hariri would submit his cabinet line-up when deliberations were ripe. Abdullah is expected to hold talks with Syrian President Bashar Assad during the long-awaited visit, after years of frosty ties between the Arab countries.
Meanwhile, opposition groups including the Liberation and Development bloc as well as the FPM stressed on Friday that the remaining obstacles could be promptly overcome based on mutual trust and given an understanding with Hariri on the principles governing the formation process.
FPM MP Ibrahim Kanaan said his party emphasized during deliberations with Hariri the necessity to adopt a set of principles with regard to the cabinet formation, in order to reach a common understanding over debatable constitutional clauses in the Taif.
“The most important achievement is to reach an agreement on a set of principles, such as rotating ministerial portfolios and the right of parliamentary blocs to nominate their ministers in accordance with the president’s and the premier-designate’s prerogatives,” Kanaan said.
Liberation and Development MP Anwar Khalil, an ally of the FPM, said on Friday that cabinet talks had witnessed concrete progress recently, as the deliberations entered the last step before their conclusion.
“When trust is renewed among parties, all complications could be overcome,” Khalil added.
Meanwhile, Hizbullah MP Ali Ammar called on Friday for the prompt formation of a cabinet based on the true representational size of political forces so as to revive the Constitution, adding that the Lebanese should benefit from the inter-Arab rapprochement.
Contradicting the positive atmosphere for the second consecutive day, the LF accused opposition groups of expressing optimism regarding the cabinet talks so as later to trap the majority and hold it responsible if negotiations over the cabinet failed.
LF MP Antoine Zahra called on Friday for Sleiman and Hariri to form a cabinet in accordance with their constitutional prerogatives if efforts to reach an agreement over a national-unity cabinet with the opposition failed.
“The opposition’s intentions will be tested during deliberations over portfolios and names, which will reveal whether their positive rhetoric is a maneuver to shift the blame on March 14 for the failure to form a cabinet, or if they were positively influenced by the Syrian-Saudi rapprochement,” Zahra said.