Lebanon News

Rival political leaders to resume talks on defense strategy in July

BEIRUT: Rival political leaders agreed Monday to resume talks on a national defense strategy to benefit from Hezbollah’s arms based on President Michel Sleiman’s proposal.

“[The participants agreed] on the resumption of the subject of a national defense strategy including the issue of Hezbollah's arms in the next session and consider the concept presented by the president as a launch pad for discussions,” a statement by Sleiman’s office said.

The next session of intra-Lebanese talks will be held on July 24.

The second round of the relaunched National Dialogue resumed Monday at Baabda Palace where rival politicians discussed decisions from previous all-party talks on issues such as arms outside Palestinian refugee camps.

Some of the participants also put forward their own version of what national defense strategy need entail.

"We will discuss everything today," said head of the Loyalty to the Resistance MP Mohammad Raad, ahead of the talks that commenced at 11 a.m.

For his part, Prime Minister Najib Mikati expressed hope ahead of the talks that discussions would produce positive results.

Sources familiar with the talks said that during the session Sleiman proposed a defense strategy compatible with the views of both the March 8 and the March 14 coalitions in a bid to reach common ideas with regard to the issue of Hezbollah’s arms.

Sleiman also spoke about the Adaisseh incident in 2010, when the Lebanese Army faced off with Israeli soldiers in south Lebanon, saying that the state should handle defense when it is present.

According to the sources, former Prime Minister Fouad Siniora stressed on the importance of distinguishing the possession of arms before and after 2000, when the Israeli army withdrew from south Lebanon.

In response to Siniora, Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri said Hezbollah’s arsenal should remain to protect Lebanon’s oil resources.

In the statement Monday, the participants also hoped that the government would place the appropriate mechanisms for the implementation of previous resolutions that were agreed upon on the National Dialogue table.

While the March 14 coalition insists that any national defense strategy needs to integrate Hezbollah’s arsenal into the Lebanese Army, the resistance party insists on keeping its arms.

March 14 coalition figures have hinted at the possibility of halting their participation in Dialogue unless the issue of the party’s arsenal is discussed at Monday’s session.

Due to travel arrangements, Deputy Parliament Speaker Farid Makari was absent from the discussions as was Finance Minister Mohammad Safadi, who also missed the first round of Dialogue on June 11 for health reasons.

The leaders also agreed to adhere to decisions made in the first Dialogue sessions which convened on June 11 to support the army, distance Lebanon from regional and international conflict, and prevent the country from becoming a conduit for smuggling arms and gunmen.





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