Lebanon News

Aoun, Nasrallah set for talks to finalize deal on Cabinet formation

BEIRUT: Negotiations to form a government made progress Tuesday but a final agreement over the Cabinet makeup awaits a meeting between Hezbollah secretary general Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah and Free Patriotic Movement leader Michel Aoun, a March 8 source told The Daily Star.

“Things are moving positively as a formula is being ironed out,” the source said.

“The meeting between Sayyed Nasrallah and General Aoun hopefully will pave the way for the formation of a government.”

The source said Hezbollah intensified its efforts to ease Aoun’s demands to facilitate an agreement with Prime Minister-designate Najib Mikati over the distribution of ministerial portfolios. Mikati met last week with Nasrallah.

The proposal would downgrade Aoun’s Reform and Change parliamentary bloc’s share from 11 to 10 ministers while a compromise arrangement between President Michel Sleiman and Aoun would consist of nominating an independent figure to head the Interior Ministry.

As The Daily Star went to press Tuesday Speaker Nabih Berri’s aide Ali Hassan Khalil was holding talks with Mikati at the latter’s residence and Nasrallah’s aide Hussein Khalil was meeting with Aoun in Rabieh, a source close to the government formation process said.

Hussein Khalil was expected to have later joined the meeting at Mikati’s residence.

Earlier in the day, FPM sources said Aoun submitted to Berri and Nasrallah’s aides a proposal consisting of his ministerial demands, leaving them to negotiate an agreement with Mikati.

The source added that Aoun awaited Mikati’s response to his proposal before reconsidering his support for the prime minister-designate to form the government.

However, a source close to Mikati said Berri’s aide did not come forward with one proposal but rather a basket of ideas, which was being discussed.

“There is no proposal as suggested but rather several propositions which are being deliberated,” the source said.

“I can say, discussions are positive but so far nothing conclusive has been decided,” he added.

The FPM sources said earlier that Aoun would regard a negative reply as an indication of Mikati’s surrender to foreign intervention which wishes to delay the formation process.

Reform and Change bloc MP Fadi Aawar said Tuesday Mikati could step down to open the door for another figure to assume the responsibility of forming a new government.

“Given the delay, Prime Minister-designate Mikati can step down allowing someone else to handle the responsibility,” Aawar said, adding that “a foreign agenda was behind the delay in the formation process.”

Some reports published recently by pro-March 8 media outlets said Mikati had succumbed to U.S. pressure to put off the formation of a March 8-dominated Cabinet after he promised foreign powers he would grant the key security and finance ministerial portfolios to independent figures.

The FPM argue that Mikati, who was designated by the new March 8 parliamentary majority, should meet the demands of the groups, with Aoun insisting that the Interior Ministry falls under his bloc’s share of portfolios.

The sources, who refrained from disclosing the details of Aoun’s proposal, said the disputed issue of the Interior Ministry could be discussed after Mikati responds to the former general’s demands with regard to the number of ministries and the makeup of portfolios to be allotted to the Reform and Change bloc.

Aoun’s insistence on nominating the new interior minister faces opposition from Sleiman, who is adamant that his minister, Ziyad Baroud, should retain the portfolio and is threatening to exercise his constitutional right by refraining from signing the Cabinet formation decree if his request is not fulfilled.

Criticizing Aoun and his allies, the Future Movement Tuesday accused March 8 groups of violating the constitutional prerogatives of the prime minister-designate and the president when it comes to the Cabinet formation.

“The movement will not succumb or accept attempts by some parties to take over the prerogatives of Lebanese state officials and impose new conventions in violation of the Constitution,” a statement released by the bloc following a meeting headed by former Prime Minister Fouad Siniora said.

Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea told The Daily Star in an interview that Mikati’s failure to form a government so far showed the Hezbollah-led March 8 coalition was fragmented and incapable of building a state.

Geagea added that the March 14 coalition would eventually regain the ability to form the Cabinet after Hezbollah and its allies prove their failure to govern Lebanon.

“Hezbollah, with all my due respect, is not a state builder. It is not shy with its ideology, the party wakes up on resistance and sleeps on resistance. You can’t build states on a slogan, regardless if it was a right one or not,” Geagea said.

Future Movement MP Ahmad Fatfat said the March 8 alliance was deliberately delaying the formation process to benefit from the Cabinet void to strengthen its mini-state. – With additional reporting by Hassan Lakkis

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on April 06, 2011, on page 2.

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