By Hussein Dakroub
Friday, January 28, 2011
BEIRUT: Caretaker Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s parliamentary Future bloc called on Prime Minister-designate Najib Mikati Thursday to uphold Lebanon’s cooperation with a U.N.-backed court probing the 2005 killing of statesman Rafik Hariri, in defiance of calls by Hezbollah and its March 8 allies to sever all links with the court.
Meanwhile, Syria signaled its support for Mikati, saying it was ready to cooperate with his government.
Mikati kicked off Thursday two days of consultations with parliamentary blocs on the shape and size of the new government to replace Hariri’s toppled Cabinet amid signs that Hariri’s parliamentary Future bloc and its allies in the March 14 coalition will not participate in his government.
Former Prime Minister Fouad Siniora led members of the Future bloc to the meeting with Mikati during which the premier-designate was given a memorandum containing a list of demands dealing mainly with Hezbollah’s weapons and the group’s repeated calls to end Lebanon’s cooperation with the U.N.-backed Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL), which is probing the assassination of Hariri’s father, former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.
The memo stressed that the STL is alone entrusted with revealing the truth and achieving justice in the killing of Hariri and 22 others in a massive bombing in Beirut on February 14, 2005.
Speaking to reporters after the meeting at the Parliament building on Nijmeh Square, Siniora, who heads the Future bloc in Parliament, said the bloc members hoped that Mikati would clarify his position and make public commitment to these demands.
Siniora did not say whether the Future bloc would participate in Mikati’s government if these demands were met. A day before Mikati was appointed to form a new Cabinet, Hariri said Monday he would not join a government headed by a candidate backed by the March 8 camp.
Hariri repeated this position after meeting Mikati separately. Asked if his bloc would join Mikati’s government, Hariri asked, “What for?”
The Future bloc’s memo calls on Mikati “to commit not to agree on ending Lebanon’s commitment to the Special Tribunal for Lebanon, including a request to halt its funding or withdraw the Lebanese judges.”
It calls on Mikati “to commit not to agree to a request for the cancellation of memos of understanding Lebanon has signed with the United Nations or to a request to freeze the Special Tribunal for Lebanon.” Furthermore, Mikati is urged to pledge not to include any of these issues on the Cabinet’s agenda.
Hariri’s Cabinet was brought down on Jan. 12 after ministers of Hezbollah and its March 8 allies resigned in a long-simmering row over the STL’s impending indictment, which is widely assumed to implicate some Hezbollah members in Rafik Hariri’s assassination.
As a way out of the dispute over the STL, the new government was expected to refer the tribunal issue to Parliament, in a move that would eventually lead the new parliamentary majority that backed Mikati for prime minister to annul Lebanon’s cooperation protocol with the STL, withdraw Lebanese judges and halt funding for the tribunal, a political source told The Daily Star.
Mikati was backed by Hezbollah and its March 8 allies in the premiership battle against Hariri. He was appointed by President Michel Sleiman Tuesday to form a new government after winning the support of 68 lawmakers against 60 for Hariri.
The STL has for months been at the root of tension between Hariri’s March 14 coalition and the March 8 camp led by Hezbollah, which has said that the STL will accuse of its members in Rafik Hariri’s assassination. Hezbollah has repeatedly denied involvement in the assassination and dismissed the STL as an “American-Israeli tool” designed to incite strife in Lebanon.
Mikati told Reuters Thursday that he will attempt to achieve consensus in Lebanon on how to deal with the STL. “We will hold dialogue to see what to do about the STL,” he said. “The decision is not mine alone. Any [decision] in Lebanon must be based on consensus.”
The Future bloc’s memo accuses Hezbollah and its allies of violating the 2008 Doha Accord which banned the use of arms to settle political conflicts and resignation from the Cabinet. It calls on Mikati to draw up “a timetable for the collection of arms directed at the people from all Lebanese territory and from all Lebanese parties, except the Resistance’s arms which are directed at Israel and which should be within a defense strategy to which all the Lebanese adhere.”
The memo stresses the need for the Lebanese state to assert its authority over all its territory and remove all illegitimate Lebanese and Palestinian weapons.
Meanwhile, Syria, the former power broker in Lebanon, signaled its support for Mikati, urging rival Lebanese factions to join his government. “We call on all parties to join the Mikati cabinet, and Syria is ready to cooperate with this government,” Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Moallem told a joint news conference in Damascus with his British counterpart William Hague.
“What has happened in Lebanon is in line with the Constitution. We respect the choice of the representatives of the Lebanese people, and we hope the prime minister-designate can form a government of national unity,” he added.
“We respect the sovereignty and independence of Lebanon and we want to build bilateral relations based on mutual respect,” Moallem said. “We urge the international community to follow Syria in not prejudging the actions of the next government or imposing any conditions.”
In a statement after meeting Syrian President Bashar Assad, Haig said Britain hoped the new government in Lebanon would uphold its international obligations, including the STL. “The U.K. looks for a government that is formed in accordance with Lebanon’s Constitution; that commands the broadest possible support of the people of Lebanon; that upholds its international obligations, including the Special Tribunal and an end to impunity for assassinations,” he said.
Billionaire Mikati, a telecoms tycoon with close ties with Syria, told the U.S. Ambassador to Lebanon Maura Connelly that he is committed to maintaining good ties with Washington, a statement from his office said.
This came days after Washington warned that the formation of a government dominated by Hezbollah would mean changes in relations with Lebanon. Mikati “confirmed during the meeting the importance of bilateral relations between Lebanon and the United States,” the statement said.
A statement by the U.S. Embassy said Connelly “stressed to Mr. Mikati that the U.S. hopes that the government formation process goes forward as an exclusively Lebanese decision free from coercion, intimidation, and threats of violence, from both inside and outside Lebanon.”
“She reiterated that the U.S. is committed to supporting Lebanon’s sovereignty, stability and independence. Ambassador Connelly expressed the United States’ continuing support for the Special Tribunal for Lebanon as a vital part of ending impunity for political violence in Lebanon,” the statement said. Connelly later met with Hariri at his residence in downtown Beirut.
Hezbollah denied that it had put any conditions on Mikati. “We did not give a list of conditions to Prime Minister [designate] Mikati. We don’t accept this,” MP Mohammad Raad, the head of Hezbollah’s 12-member bloc in Parliament, said after meeting Mikati. He called for the formation of “a national partnership and salvation government in which everyone cooperates for the interest of the country.