Lebanon News

Salam upbeat about policy statement

Prime Minister Tammam Salam arrives to attend a press conference at the Presidential Palace in Baabda, Saturday, Feb. 15, 2014. (The Daily Star/Mohammad Azakir)

BEIRUT: Prime Minister Tammam Salam said Wednesday he was upbeat that parties in his government would come to an agreement over its policy statement, adding that he was confident the national unity Cabinet would win a vote of confidence.

But Hezbollah insisted during the first meeting of the ministerial committee tasked with drafting the Cabinet’s policy statement that the blueprint should legitimize the resistance.

“I believe that political parties that were able to meet and form this government ... will not come up with obstacles to impede agreement on the policy statement,” Salam said during an interview with Future TV.

Speaking shortly after chairing the committee meeting, Salam said he supported a short policy statement, since the government would resign once a new president assumed power. President Michel Sleiman’s term expires on May 25.

Salam said he would take into consideration the views of all parties represented in the committee, hoping that its deliberations would not drag on. The committee has a 30-day deadline to draft the policy statement.

Salam said the atmosphere was good during the meeting at the Grand Serail. The body is to convene again Thursday at 6:30 p.m.

Salam said his government represented the majority of political parties in the country, and therefore should win many confidence votes.

“All political factions are represented in it [this government], thus, they are all supposed to give it a vote of confidence,” Salam said. Once the policy statement is drafted, the Cabinet refers it to Parliament and seeks a vote of confidence on it.

Salam announced his 24-member national unity government Saturday after over 10 months of deliberations, bringing together the rival March 8 and March 14 coalitions along with centrists, or ministers loyal to Progressive Socialist Party leader Walid Jumblatt, Salam and Sleiman.

The March 14 alliance insists that the Baabda Declaration, which calls for distancing Lebanon from regional conflicts, particularly the war in Syria, be included in the policy statement. The pact, agreed upon by various parties in June 2012, was violated by Hezbollah, which joined Syria’s war alongside regime troops last year.

The March 8 coalition argues that the policy statement should include a clause stating that Lebanon has the right to liberate its land from Israeli occupation through the “Army, people and resistance.” The clause effectively legitimizes Hezbollah’s arms. It was mentioned in the policy statements of previous Cabinets.

Salam proposed a draft policy statement stipulating that the government’s task would be to address the deteriorating security and socioeconomic situation, combat terrorism and prepare for holding a presidential election this spring. According to the proposal, disputed issues would be discussed during National Dialogue sessions.According to sources who attended the committee meeting, Hezbollah Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs Mohammad Fneish insisted that the policy statement legitimize resistance, though not necessarily through the “Army, people and resistance” formula. However, his demand was opposed by March 14 members of the committee, who highlighted the importance of a disassociation policy and the Baabda Declaration.

Speaking to The Daily Star after the meeting, Fneish said Hezbollah was among the groups interested in reaching an agreement over the policy statement. “But there should be eagerness to protect the resistance,” he said.

For his part, Labor Minister Sejaan Azzi, from the Kataeb Party, said that Salam’s proposal deserved to be accepted by all political factions.

Speaking to The Daily Star, some members of the committee said they expected that the March 8 and March 14 groups would adhere to their opposing stances for a while before reaching a compromise, which is what happened before the Cabinet lineup was announced.

Salam, who insisted he was an independent political figure, said the main purpose of his government was to ensure the presidential election was held on time and to tackle the deteriorating security and socioeconomic conditions.

Salam also said he supported the adoption of the previous government’s policy of disassociation.

Separately, U.S. Ambassador to Lebanon David Hale extended his congratulations to Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil during a visit, hoping that they would both work on improving U.S.-Lebanese ties.

“I look forward to working with him and the Foreign Ministry to advance our bilateral relations,” Hale told reporters after the meeting.

“The United States remains committed to Lebanon’s freedom, prosperity, and stability. Together with the International Support Group for Lebanon, we will continue to work with the Lebanese to pave a way forward through the current challenges to reach these goals,” Hale said. He conveyed similar messages Wednesday during visits to Telecom Minister Butros Harb, Interior Minister Nouhad Machnouk and Justice Minister Ashraf Rifi.

Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and Laurent Fabius, France’s foreign minister, telephoned Bassil to extend congratulations as well. – Additional reporting by Dana Khraiche

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on February 20, 2014, on page 1.




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