Jun 11 2012
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Expectations low as leaders gather for Dialogue
11 June 2012
BEIRUT: Lebanon’s rival political leaders meet face-to-face for the first time in more than 18 months Monday in a new session of the National Dialogue amid low expectations of achieving concrete results to resolve the country’s deepening political crisis.
However, hopes remain that the all-party talks could help to defuse mounting tensions resulting from the 15-month-old unrest in Syria. President Michel Sleiman will chair the intra-Lebanese National Dialogue session at Baabda Palace against the backdrop of growing Arab and Western concerns over Lebanon’s stability and fears of a spillover of the turmoil in neighboring Syria into the country.
Sleiman’s invitation to rival leaders in the Hezbollah-led March 8 bloc and the opposition March 14 coalition for National Dialogue has won strong support from Arab Gulf states and Western countries, which prodded the Lebanese to end their deep political divisions that threaten to destabilize the country.
Another major absentee is former minister and lawmaker Ghassan Tueni, the veteran journalist, politician, diplomat and publisher of An-Nahar newspaper, who died Friday at age 86. The late Tueni was one of the National Dialogue Committee’s members who represented the Greek Orthodox community.
“Are the Syrian regime and Hezbollah ready to sit at the [dialogue] table? Certainly not. We will not go to dialogue because it will not be a serious dialogue,” Geagea said in an interview with Al-Jadeed TV Sunday night.
“We will not go to this dialogue, but we might go to another dialogue if matters are serious. I am fully convinced that this [dialogue] is a waste of time and can lead nowhere,” Geagea said. “After 40 dialogue sessions, my hair fell.”
The last dialogue session held in November 2010 was boycotted by Hezbollah, MP Michel Aoun and their March 8 allies amid a dispute with the government over the issue of “false witnesses” linked to the U.N. investigation into the 2005 assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. Speaker Nabih Berri was the only March 8 figure who attended along with March 14 leaders.
In his invitation to March 8 and March 14 leaders, Sleiman said that the session would discuss a national defense strategy and how to benefit from Hezbollah’s arsenal and resolve the problem of the proliferation of arms in cities and towns outside the jurisdiction of the state.
Monday’s dialogue session comes two days after the March 14 coalition handed Sleiman a political memo outlining its stance on the all-party talks and reiterating its call for the formation of a neutral salvation government to follow up the dialogue sessions and supervise next year’s parliamentary elections. Dubbed “a salvation initiative,” the memo also stressed the importance of addressing non-state arms, a clear reference to Palestinian arms and Hezbollah’s arsenal.
The March 14 coalition said their initiative was addressed to all the Lebanese, including Hezbollah and March 8 parties, and was designed to establish “a basis for an all-embracing national security network aimed at protecting Lebanon from all the repercussions, pressures and dangers threatening it.”
The memo was delivered by former PM Fouad Siniora, head of the parliamentary Future bloc, who led a March 14 delegation to Baabda Palace Saturday.
The memo calls on all the parties to commit themselves to civil peace, security and stability and prevent the country from sliding into chaos or internal fighting.
“The growing dangers facing our country and the historic responsibility to ward them off through an all-embracing national plan to protect and rescue Lebanon cannot be addressed by a politically one-sided government that has lost confidence among broad segments of the Lebanese people,” the memo read.
“In the eyes of many Lebanese, this government is directed by an armed party and is controlled by the Syrian regime which is using it as a tool in its battle against its people,” the memo said, in a clear allusion to Hezbollah.
The memo calls for the formation of “a neutral salvation government” within a specified time limit that would ensure transition to a new phase in which the country would steer clear of confrontation and tension between Lebanese citizens and address the country’s socio-economic problems.
The memo also calls for developing a mechanism that would enable the Lebanese state to take possession of arms currently in the hands of non-state actors and added that this should occur according to a clearly established timeline.
Stressing that Israel is Lebanon’s “real enemy,” the memo said: “Fighting Israel and defending Lebanon cannot be carried out by a single group or sect of the Lebanese society. Rather, it is an all-embracing national duty carried out by the Lebanese state through its military and security agencies.”
The memo stresses the March 8 and March 14 parties’ commitment to decisions taken in previous dialogue sessions, including: supporting and cooperating with the U.N.-backed Special Tribunal for Lebanon, removal of Palestinian arms from outside the refugee camps and controlling arms inside these camps under the Lebanese state’s authority, and demarcating the Lebanese-Syrian borders.
Meanwhile, Berri warned that an inter-Muslim strife in parts of Lebanon could engulf the entire country, expressing confidence that dialogue would ease tensions.
“The scheme [in the region] is to create dissension between Muslims themselves, and while this issue might be bearable in some countries, Lebanon cannot tolerate it,” Berri said in an interview with the Saudi daily Okaz. “Lebanon is a country of 18 minority groups; a single [instance of] strife could engulf all of Lebanon, particularly if it is between Muslims,” added Berri, who is also the leader of the Amal Movement.
Berri touted the National Dialogue’s ability to defuse tension. “Simply by holding the Dialogue session on schedule, the situation will change 50 percent and the rest will change according to the results,” he said.
For its part, Hezbollah said it is ready to discuss its own plan for a national defense strategy. The party has been criticized for not presenting its own vision for defense strategy during past dialogue sessions.
“We have a complete paper on a defense strategy and we are ready to discuss its contents and details,” Hezbollah’s deputy leader Sheikh Naim Qassem told a rally in Beirut’s southern suburbs. “Others should put forward their own vision for a strategy and when we convince each other, we can agree on an overall strategy that serves Lebanon’s interests.”© Copyright The Daily Star 2012.
© Copyright Zawya. All Rights Reserved.
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