Lebanon News

Aoun blames Cabinet delay on foreign interference

BEIRUT: Free Patriotic Movement leader MP Michel Aoun blamed Monday what he termed “foreign interference” for the delay in the formation of a new Cabinet.

In an interview with Hezbollah’s Al-Manar television, Aoun also accused President Michel Sleiman and Prime Minister-designate Najib Mikati of obstructing the Cabinet’s formation by failing to distribute the ministerial portfolios in a draft 30-member Cabinet lineup.

Aoun, whose tough demands for the lion’s share of Christian participation have been blamed for the three-month-long Cabinet impasse, was asked about who was blocking the government’s formation.

“There are external reasons for the failure to form the Cabinet. Foreign interference is obvious. There are envoys who are coming and going and they do not want the reins [of government] to be handed over to their real owners,” Aoun said. Although he did not elaborate, he was apparently referring to U.S. envoys who have visited Lebanon recently for talks on the Cabinet crisis.

Aoun and his allies in the Hezbollah-led March 8 coalition, who now have the Parliament majority, have accused the United States of interfering in Lebanon’s internal politics to delay the Cabinet’s formation.

Aoun rejected the argument that his “impossible demands” were holding up the Cabinet’s formation, and instead blamed Sleiman and Mikati for the delay.

“When they say there are impossible demands, let the one who is saying this tell me, where are my impossible demands?” Aoun said, adding: “The obstruction is coming from Prime Minister-designate Najib Mikati and President Michel Sleiman who do not shoulder their responsibilities in the distribution of portfolios and not in naming the candidates.”

Mikati’s attempts in the past three months to form a new government have stumbled mainly over the key Interior Ministry. Sleiman and Aoun’s struggle over who should name a consensus candidate to the portfolio is holding up the government’s formation. Sleiman had initially insisted on retaining caretaker Interior Minister Ziyad Baroud.

Aoun, who had initially demanded that the Interior Ministry post be allotted to a member of his parliamentary Change and Reform bloc, has now dropped this demand but is also insisting on naming a consensus candidate.

In an attempt to break the deadlock over the Interior Ministry, Baroud said he had decided not join the new Cabinet. He said he had told Sleiman three months ago that he did not want to shoulder any ministerial responsibility in the hope that this would facilitate the Cabinet’s formation.

“There has been talk in the media over the past three weeks portraying the matter as if the Cabinet’s formation depended on Baroud or on the so-called Interior Ministry problem … I want to tell the citizens that Ziyad Baroud is not obstructing at all the country’s affairs or the Cabinet’s formation and will not allow himself to be an obstacle,” Baroud told a business forum at the BIEL Saturday. “I hope the Cabinet will be formed within 24 hours. I am not part of any obstacles linked to this Cabinet.”

Sources close to the Cabinet formation process said that Army Commander General Jean Kahwagi has proposed Brigadier Paul Mattar as a possible consensus candidate to the Interior Ministry. While Aoun has approved Mattar, Sleiman has not yet given a clear answer, the sources said.

But MP Alain Aoun from Michel Aoun’s bloc told OTV Monday night that Sleiman would not agree to someone from the army for the Interior Ministry. “The ball is now in his court to solve this problem” he said.

The problem of Sunni opposition representation has been solved after Mikati has chosen Ahmad Tabbara, who is close to former Prime Minister Salim Hoss, the sources said.

The sources added that Syria’s role, particularly that of President Bashar Assad, is still essential for resolving the differences between Sleiman and Aoun to clear the way for the Cabinet’s formation which can be announced as soon as an agreement on the Interior Ministry portfolio has been reached. – With additional reporting by Hassan Lakkis

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on May 03, 2011, on page 2.

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