BEIRUT, (AP) — Lebanese politicians from across the spectrum on Friday welcomed the rapprochement between Damascus and Riyadh but warned it was insufficient to guarantee the formation of a government in Lebanon.
“The Syrian-Saudi summit is not enough,” acting Social Affairs Minister Mario Aoun told local radio on Friday.
“What we see around us does not lead to the hope that we will have a government in the near future as the United States still has not given the green light,” said Aoun, a member of the opposition.
Prime minister-designate Saad Hariri has tried without success to form a national unity government since June, when his US- and Saudi-backed coalition clinched victory in a general election over a Hezbollah-led alliance backed by Syria and Iran.
It was widely believed that his efforts were bound to fail barring a thaw in relations between regional powerhouses Saudi Arabia and Syria.
That thaw came this week when Saudi King Abdullah paid a landmark visit to Syria, his first since he acceded to the throne in 2005.
The monarch and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad after meeting in Damascus on Thursday came out with a statement urging the formation of a national unity government in Lebanon, saying it would be the “basis for stability, unity and strength.”
Syria was the main powerbroker in Lebanon for nearly 30 years until the 2005 assassination of Hariri’s father Rafik, a five-time premier who was close to the Saudi monarchy and held Saudi nationality.
There were widespread suspicions that Syria was behind the killing, an allegation Damascus has consistently denied.
Hariri’s assassination all but froze relations between Damascus and Riyadh, which were already at odds over the 2003 US invasion of Iraq.
Saudi Arabia also disapproves of the Syrian regime’s close ties to Iran and Hezbollah.
“The Saudi-Syrian meeting was necessary but is not sufficient to form a government,” MP Mustafa Alloush of the ruling alliance, which is led by Saad Hariri, told AFP.
Alloush said “other elements” also affected the formation of a government, including Iran’s support of Hezbollah as well as Syria’s plan to break out of isolation, which would need Washington’s stamp of approval.
Druze leader Walid Jumblatt, a member of the ruling majority, welcomed the Syrian-Saudi summit but said it would not resolve all of Lebanon’s problems.
“It is now up to us not to set impossible conditions and to quickly take advantage of this golden opportunity, as there are local, regional and international powers that aim to disrupt Syrian-Saudi agreement,” he told the pro-opposition daily As-Safir, without elaborating.
The main point of contention among rival Lebanese parties in forming a government has been the distribution of portfolios and the choice of ministers.
Assad on Friday contacted Lebanese President Michel Sleiman to inform him the summit had been “constructive,” the Lebanese presidency said in a statement.
“President Assad said both Syria and Saudi Arabia were keen on seeing a national unity government that reflects and guarantees Lebanese cooperation … to end any attempts to disrupt security,” a statement issued by Sleiman’s office said.
Lebanese newspapers on Friday welcomed the outcome of the summit and also stressed that that it was up to the Lebanese to settle their own differences.
“Summit of consensus in Damascus: for a national unity government in Lebanon,” said As-Safir’s front-page headline.
“The Syrian-Saudi summit shows no Lebanese can overpower another,” read the headline in Al-Akhbar, another pro-opposition daily.
Dailies close to the Saudi-backed majority, too, welcomed the joint Saudi-Syrian call.
“The majority welcomes the summit and hopes for an end to obstacles in forming the government,” read a headline in the daily Al-Mustaqbal, which is run by the family of prime minister-designate Saad Hariri.