BEIRUT: Syrian President Bashar Assad said Monday Prime Minister Saad Hariri was the appropriate person to lead Lebanon’s government under the current circumstances as ministers looked set to again postpone talks over the issue of “false witnesses.”
Assad told the pan-Arab daily Al-Hayat in an interview to be published Tuesday that his personal relation with Saudi King Abdullah bin Abdel-Aziz was a guarantee to seeing solid relations between Syria and Saudi Arabia.
Assad also denied that Lebanese politicians who recently visited Damascus raised the issue of a government change.
Assad’s supportive remarks of Hariri’s role come after tensions surfaced again in ties between Hariri’s coalition and Damascus following a statement by Syrian Prime Minister Mohammad Naji al-Otari describing the March 14 coalition as a “house of cards.”
Otari’s comments last week broke a period of calm that was gradually established following Hariri’s first visit to Damascus in December 2009 following a Syrian-Saudi rapprochement after four years of broken ties since former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri’s murder.
Earlier Monday, Assad discussed with former Prime Minister Omar Karami in Damascus the latest developments in Lebanon after visits last week by Progressive Socialist Party leader Walid Jumblatt and Speaker Nabih Berri to Syria.
Echoing statements that followed Assad’s discussions with Jumblatt and Berri, a statement released by Karami’s press office said the Syrian leader conveyed to Karami the need to maintain a calm dialogue in Lebanon in order to confront an Israeli plot to instigate Sunni-Shiite strife.
The statement added that Assad underscored the strength of Syrian-Saudi ties that worked in favor of calm in Lebanon while denying any Syrian interference in Lebanese affairs.
A Syrian-Saudi and inter-Lebanese brokered solution to the political standoff between Hariri and Hizbullah has yet to materialize as ministerial discussions over the issue of false witnesses await President Michel Sleiman’s mediation for a compromise between rival parties on the issue.
March 8 parties accuse witnesses who later recanted their testimonies before the UN investigators of misleading investigations into Hariri’s case.
Hizbullah and its allies argue that putting those witnesses on trial would set straight the course of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL) probe, but March 14 parties insist that such a probe cannot be carried out before the release of the STL indictment when testimonies would be made public.
March 8 ministerial sources told The Daily Star the coalition’s ministers would not object to postponing discussions over the issue of “false witnesses” that were likely to take place Wednesday to a later date.
“We want to believe that Saudi-Syrian accord concerning Lebanon can still lead to a solution that is acceptable by all parties and can accomplish justice without instigating strife as believed by Jumblatt,” the ministerial source said.
The sources added that postponing talks was aimed at granting Sleiman more time to reach an understanding over the issue of “false witnesses” and avoid a Cabinet vote that could lead to a sharp political divide that might threaten the Cabinet’s unity.
However, the sources said the March 8 coalition’s acceptance of such a formula should not be interpreted as a sign of their willingness to make concessions or to relinquish their earlier demand to refer the issue to the Justice Council.
March 14 parliamentary sources said the alliance’s ministers insist that the issue of “false witnesses” fell under the jurisdiction of the Lebanese judiciary rather than the Justice Council as reiterated by the Justice Ministry’s report.
The sources said the March 8 coalition was trying to pressure Hariri to make concessions or face a vote in Cabinet.