Sleiman to postpone dialogue to early next year

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President Michel Sleiman is expected to reschedule Thursday’s Dialogue session to a later date, probably early next year after the March 14’s decision to boycott this week’s talks, political sources told The Daily Star.

Sleiman had earlier said the country’s rival parties seemed to have no intention of taking part in the Nov. 29 Dialogue session aimed at resolving the ongoing government crisis.

The sources told The Daily Star the decision to push the session to early next year was made because both Sleiman and Prime Minister Najib Mikati would be traveling abroad in December.

Sleiman will be on an official visit to Greece from Dec. 6-8 and will be on vacation around the New Year.

The prime minister is leaving Beirut to Italy Wednesday for an official three-day visit.

Sleiman, however, said he was sure the March 8 and March 14 leaders would end up engaging in dialogue sooner or later.

“It seems the concerned parties have no intention of take part in the next round of dialogue … but I am sure they will eventually participate in dialogue,” the president told his visitors at Baabda Palace.

“I feel sorry that some have decided to boycott dialogue,” Sleiman said.

“I acknowledge their right to make that choice, but the right to boycott must only be used in exceptional circumstances,” he added.

Sleiman called on the March 14 coalition to come to the Dialogue table and request a government change.

“If they want a new government, let them make this request at the Dialogue table and see what the other party’s reaction would be,” he said, adding that the fate of the current Cabinet should not be a precondition to attending National Dialogue.

“There are three ideas on what the next Cabinet should look like. We can either have a national unity government, a majority one or a neutral one,” added Sleiman.

“What should be discussed at the Dialogue table is changing the current government in principle, without getting into details as it is left for the president and the prime minister to decide on the shape of the new Cabinet after consulting the different parliamentary blocs, as stipulated by the Constitution,” the president said.

The opposition is pressuring Mikati to resign over the Oct. 19 assassination of Brigadier General Wissam al-Hasan in a car blast that rocked Beirut’s Ashrafieh district. It has called for the resignation of Mikati and the formation of a neutral salvation Cabinet that would supervise the 2013 parliamentary elections.

To increase pressure on Mikati, the opposition launched a boycott of the government and all legislative activity and set Cabinet resignation as a precondition to resuming National Dialogue.

Meanwhile, Speaker Nabih Berri said Lebanese rivals should resume dialogue to reach a consensus over their disagreements. “We should reach consensus over disputed matters as we can’t eliminate each other,” Berri said during a lunch banquet in Ain al-Tineh to honor Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan.

Addressing Lebanese political figures who attended the speaker’s lunch, Berri said reaching a breakthrough on Lebanon’s deadlock should not hinge on developments in the Syrian crisis.

“We should reach an understanding without waiting to see what will happen in Syria,” Berri said.

The speaker also stressed that dialogue participants should come to the table knowing that discussion of arms should be directed at the sole aim of protecting Lebanon against Israel.

Sleiman-sponsored Dialogue sessions first kicked off with the aim of agreeing on a national defense strategy for Lebanon amid calls by the March 14 coalition to disarm Hezbollah, which insists it would not lay down arms or transfer its arsenal to state possession as long as Israel poses a threat to Lebanon.

Also, Maronite Patriarch Beshara Rai urged rival parties to put Lebanon’s interest above all others and attend National Dialogue without preconditions.

Speaking at the airport after returning from the Vatican, Cardinal Rai reiterated his support to Sleiman’s efforts to bring the March 8 and March 14 coalition to the dialogue table. “I want to emphasize the importance of what President Sleiman said in Rome a few days ago. All conditions and reservations become irrelevant when national interests are at stake and when the country is in danger,” Rai said.

Separately, Mikati met U.S. Ambassador to Lebanon Maura Connelly Tuesday for discussions over the Cabinet formation bid, a statement from Connelly’s press office said. “Ambassador Connelly welcomed the prime minister’s efforts to move forward with dialogue on government formation.”

Following an official three-day visit to France last week, Mikati said he was willing to step down and allow the formation of a new Cabinet provided that a prior consensus was reached among Lebanese rivals.

According to the statement, forming a new Cabinet in the aftermath of Hasan’s assassination would strengthen internal security and Lebanon’s sovereignty and independence. “The ambassador and the prime minister discussed recent proposals by several Lebanese leaders on how to move forward with establishing a government that reflects the aspirations of the Lebanese people.”

 

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