Lebanon News

Jumblatt says ties with Arslan help protect Syria’s Druze community

File - PSP leader Walid Jumblatt is seen in Beirut, Tuesday, Sept. 10, 2013. (The Daily Star/Mahmoud Kheir)

BEIRUT: Progressive Socialist Party leader Walid Jumblatt said Tuesday that he had relied on former Minister Talal Arslan’s ties with the Syrian regime to spare the Druze community in Syria the dangers of the ongoing civil war.

Asked about The Daily Star’s report that he had sent a message to Syrian President Bashar Assad through Arslan, Jumblatt said: “Talal and I maintain ties with national figures outside Syria, with sheikhs in the [Druze] mountain and with the Free Syrian Army. We resort to them whenever tit-for-tat kidnappings take place.

“We also resort to Talal because he has ties with the regime in order to try to avoid the more dangerous [repercussions of the war],” Jumblatt said in a live interview with LBCI’s Marcel Ghanem, host of the political talk show Kalam Ennas. “So far, we succeeded in some places and failed in others.”

The Druze leader reiterated his calls for Syrian Druze to take a neutral stance in Syria’s conflict if they did not want to join the uprising.

Jumblatt Monday denied The Daily Star’s report. “As far as I am aware, I have not reached this level of senility or political stupidity,” Al-Anbaa quoted Jumblatt as saying on its website.

The Daily Star, quoting a senior political source close to the March 8 coalition, reported that Assad ally Arslan had delivered a message to Assad on behalf of Jumblatt.

Jumblatt’s message to Assad, according to the source, was twofold: one of re-evaluating ties between the PSP chief and the Syrian leader and an appeal to Assad to re-enroll in the Syrian army two Druze officers who had defected earlier.

Assad’s response to Jumblatt’s message was mixed, the source said.

In the interview, Jumblatt reiterated his support for the 9-9-6 Cabinet lineup that would grant rival coalitions veto power, saying he would oppose a fait accompli government if President Michel Sleiman and Prime Minister-designate Tammam Salam decided to form one.

“I conveyed this to President Sleiman. I do not back it. A fait accompli government will cause a shock and it will prompt major parties in the country: Hezbollah, Amal Movement and others to withdraw from the government ... and this Cabinet will be violating the National Pact,” Jumblatt said.

“We will be entering into an even worse crisis. I will withdraw my ministers [from such a Cabinet]. I support a consensus government rather than a fait accompli one,” he added.

Jumblatt said that if parliamentary deliberations were launched again to nominate a new prime minister, he would nominate Salam again.

“I will nominate Tammam Salam, circumstances did not help him to form a government ... through Tammam Salam, it will be an opportunity for the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to enter Lebanon through the wide political and social door,” Jumblatt said.

The PSP leader said the current caretaker government could assume the powers of the president if no successor for Sleiman was elected next spring.

“I was told that if we failed to elect a new president, this resigned Cabinet can rule ... but in order to rule, this requires the signature of the 30 ministers of the government. But you have to ask senior legal experts about it as I am not an expert,” Jumblatt said.

Jumblatt added that he had not abandoned his centrist position in Lebanese politics, urging the March 14 coalition to put the thorny issue of Hezbollah’s arsenal aside and form a government to manage the affairs of the people.

“I say we should forget about Hezbollah’s arsenal for now, meaning we will discuss it during the National Dialogue table if it is proposed again,” Jumblatt said.

“We should not tie up the fate of the country, including its economic deficit, security, Army recruitment, reform, oil issues and the case of the Syrian refugees, as we wait for Hezbollah and others to withdraw from Syria or for an Iranian-U.S. settlement,” he added.

Jumblatt said he supported Speaker Nabih Berri’s proposal of a 9-9-6 formula that would grant the March 14 and the March 8 veto power and allocate six ministers to centrist politicians. The formula is opposed by the March 14 coalition and backed by March 8 rivals.The Future bloc maintains that an all-embracing government could only be formed if Hezbollah withdraws its fighters from Syria.

But Jumblatt said Hezbollah’s participation in Syria’s war was an Iranian decision. “Let us set this issue aside and address the pressing needs of people.”

Jumblatt called for uniting the Syrian opposition, highlighting the importance of preserving Syria’s unity and ostracizing takfiri groups.

“The Syrian people will get their rights, no more no less. Tyranny cannot continue, but for how long and how [it will end], I don’t know,” he said.

He also said the Syrian opposition should attend the Geneva II conference, which the U.S. and Russia plan to convene in an attempt to come up with a political solution to Syria’s civil war.

The PSP leader voiced his support for holding a caretaker Cabinet session to approve the decrees needed to award tenders for offshore oil and gas exploration, along with the establishment of Syrian refugee camps.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on November 06, 2013, on page 1.

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