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Lebanon: Talks continue on formation of new government - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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Lebanese President Michel Suleiman (left) meeting at the Baabda Palace with former Prime Minister Fouad Siniora (Dalati and Nohra)

Lebanese President Michel Suleiman (left) meeting at the Baabda Palace with former Prime Minister Fouad Siniora (Dalati and Nohra)

Beirut, Asharq Al-Awsat—Talks continued on the formation of a new Lebanese government on Saturday, after expectations that a deal would be agreed last week went unmet.

The Future Movement, a key member of the March 14 alliance, reportedly offered conditional approval of a formula for sharing cabinet posts, allowing talks to continue.

The deal reportedly offers eight posts each to the rival March 8 Alliance and March 14 Alliance, as well as centrists. In response, Lebanese President Michel Suleiman has called on the March 8 and March 14 alliances to make joint concessions in the interest of the country.

Following a meeting on Saturday between Suleiman and Future Movement leader Fouad Siniora, presidential sources speaking to Asharq Al-Awsat on condition of anonymity said that the two leaders “did not discuss the details because that is the responsibility of Prime Minister-designate Tammam Salam.”

An agreement would end a power vacuum which has lasted since the resignation of Prime Minister Najib Mikati in March 2012. The main obstacles to an agreement have been the conditions placed by the two warring parliamentary blocs on their participation in government.

Meanwhile, sources close to Siniora said “the meeting was serious and productive, as well as frank and comprehensive,” adding that “it would be followed by further meetings and exchanges in the same vein with the relevant parties in order to take a suitable position.”

Nihad Al-Mashnouq, a member of the Future Movement, told Asharq Al-Awsat that the March 14 Alliance had not reached a comprehensive agreement on the participation in government. He said a comprehensive agreement would be “based on answering the five questions we have put forward, and we only received answers to some of them.”

Mashnouq previously said the five questions put forward to the rival March 8 Alliance included the rejection of a veto power, the adoption of the Baabda Declaration, the rotation of ministerial portfolios, and the “fair” right to veto against some names which may not be acceptable to the president or the prime minister-designate.

Mashnouq added that negotiations on the formation of the government were “ongoing but not complete, and they aimed at finding answers to our questions.” He said if an agreement was reached to form a government, “it would be an achievement for Lebanon which could open the door to presidential elections.”

In addition to the five questions, Radio Lebanon reported on Saturday that the issue of Hezbollah and neutrality in the conflict in next-door Syria were also sticking points for the Future Movement and its allies in the March 14 Alliance, in the form of the “army, people, and resistance” formula adopted by previous governments and the Baabda Declaration, respectively.

The Baabda Declaration was made by the National Dialogue Commission in June 2012, during a meeting at the presidential palace in Baabda. One of its main points is the stipulation that Lebanon remain impartial in any neighboring conflict, especially the Syrian crisis.

Hezbollah’s assistance to Bashar Al-Assad’s forces has resulted in the Lebanese Forces Party’s refusal to participate in a government. The Lebanese Forces, alongside the Lebanese Phalange, form the most prominent Christian parties in the March 14 Alliance.

In an interview with Lebanese Al-Jadid TV on Saturday, leader of the Lebanese Forces, Dr. Samir Geagea said: “Saad Al-Hariri has not made a final decision yet, and he has not persuaded me.” He added that “talks are continuing about the formation of the government.”

Geagea’s adviser, Brig-Gen. Wahbah Qatisha told Asharq Al-Awsat that “we have not agreed on the form of the government as presented to us,” adding that “we will not agree on a government which has a Lebanese party which fights in Syria,” in reference to Hezbollah.

The Phalange, however, expressed more flexibility when its leader Amine Gemayel said “we cannot stop Hezbollah’s interference in Lebanon, but we can control it.”

Speaking to Free Lebanon Radio, Gemayel said that “if the issue of Hezbollah’s arms is a problem, we must consider how to control it and move to other issues on which we can agree, such as the interference in Syria, which is a temporary issue.”

He stressed “the importance of bringing all Lebanese parties together within any framework, whether within a government or a negotiating table, to reach a minimum level of agreement, because the country can take no more mess.”