Lebanon News

Determined Sleiman works to bring March 14 to Dialogue table

President Michel Sleiman arrives at the National Dialogue session held at Baabda Palace, Lebanon, on Monday, June 11, 2012. (The Daily Star/Mohammad Azakir)

BEIRUT: President Michel Sleiman has no intention of canceling next week’s session of National Dialogue, as contacts continue with the March 14 coalition despite its decision to stay away from the meeting.

Informed sources told The Daily Star that Sleiman is engaging in discussions with politicians from the March 14 camp, in a bid to convince them to attend Tuesday’s meeting.

The president had no intention of postponing or canceling the session, the sources said.

A national defense strategy is on the agenda, but the session was thrown into doubt by a statement this week by Hezbollah official and Nabatieh MP Mohammad Raad, who said it was premature to hold any talks on the topic of a national defense strategy because a total liberation from Israeli occupation had yet to take place.

He was referring to the continued Israeli occupation of areas such as the Shebaa Farms and the northern half of the village of Ghajar.

Sleiman is expected to preside over a discussion of a blueprint for a national defense strategy, which contains a summary of the stances of various parties on the issue, as well as the input of military figures.

The March 14 decision to stay away from the Baabda Palace meeting, which was announced Thursday, was supported by Progressive Socialist Party leader Walid Jumblatt, who said he backed the move and criticized Hezbollah’s stance on retaining its weapons.

“No party, whatever the party, can decide by itself that it is engaged in liberating [territory] and then decide to join the state. This isn’t logical.”

Speaking to representatives of regional newspapers at his residence in Mukhtara, Chouf, Jumblatt said “the paper submitted by the president is clear. It deals with how to benefit from these weapons in defending Lebanon, not defending the Islamic Republic [of Iran] or anyone else.”

Amal Movement official and Tyre MP Ali Khreis said Friday he was surprised by the March 14 decision, as it demonstrated a “lack of responsibility.”

“If they boycott dialogue, then what are they calling for? If there is no dialogue, what is the alternative, in light of the current conditions we’re experiencing?” he asked.

Khreis cited Raad’s statement as a natural reaction, but added that “no one was preventing a discussion of the defense strategy – this is on the table.”

“But is it reasonable for the resistance to say, ‘I’m going to give up my weapons – here, take them?’” he added.

Sleiman was the one who invited top leaders to the session, Khreis said, and asked, “Do they want to boycott the president of the republic?”

Meanwhile, March 14 politician Butros Harb said the coalition’s decision would be final unless its demands were met.

March 14 is insisting that the authorities respond to several demands before it reverses its stance on National Dialogue.

These include facilitating investigations into recent attempts on the life of March 14 figures, such as one in April on Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea, and one earlier this month on Harb. March 14 wants the government to order telecoms data released, including the International Mobile Subscriber Identity, which allows acquiring key information about a mobile phone, including its location.

Justice Minister Shakib Qortbawi said Friday that judicial and security bodies, in addition to the Telecoms Ministry, had agreed to release all telecoms-related data with the exception of IMSI.

“I don’t think that National Dialogue is more important than the safety of those who would be sitting at the dialogue table,” Harb added, ruling out the possibility that the session would convene.

The last dialogue session took place on June 25.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on July 21, 2012, on page 2.




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