BEIRUT: Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri said Tuesday a new government lineup is ready, blasting Hezbollah for blocking its formation and urging all political parties to shoulder their responsibilities in moving the country forward.
“I have done my part, and President [Michel] Aoun and Speaker [Nabih] Berri know this. Let everyone do their part so that the country can move forward as it should,” Hariri told a news conference at his Downtown Beirut residence.
These were his first public comments since Hezbollah’s leader Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah claimed over the weekend that a solution to the stalemate lies with Hariri.
The premiere-designate hit back, saying it was clear Hezbollah was responsible for the Cabinet deadlock. “Today it is Hezbollah obstructing government formation, period. And the consequences of [what will happen to] the country will be the responsibility of Hezbollah,” he said.
Later Tuesday, the U.S. State Department also blamed Hezbollah. “As [Hariri] told media outlets today, Hezbollah continues to block Lebanon from forming a new government,” U.S. State Department Counter-Terrorism Coordinator Ambassador Nathan Sales said during a news conference in Washington. Sales said Hezbollah’s actions were “all at the expense of the Lebanese people in an effort to extract more concessions for Hezbollah’s own benefits.”
Hariri revealed he had been ready to head to Baabda Palace last month alongside Berri to present Aoun with a Cabinet lineup as soon as the Lebanese Forces announced its willingness to participate.
The problem of the six pro-Hezbollah Sunni MPs then arose, blocking Hariri’s efforts as Hezbollah and the Amal Movement backed the six MPs’ demand to be granted a minister. Hariri has vehemently rejected their representation and reaffirmed his stance Tuesday. “I was serious and direct ... and I told [Hezbollah] and everyone that this will not pass. My rejection was direct from the beginning,” he said.
“There is no Lebanese [person], from Aoun to Berri to all political figures and diplomats and economic figures and journalists, who thought that the six MPs would become a big obstacle ... after the LF obstacle fell, we all thought the government would be announced, and Berri and I were prepared to go to Baabda,” Hariri said.
The premier-designate added that he is no longer able to convince the Lebanese people that further concessions are in the country’s best interest.
In response to Nasrallah, Hariri said that everyone knows how much he has conceded for Lebanon’s benefit. “But I will not accept anyone accusing Saad Hariri of sectarian incitement; I am the father of the Sunnis in Lebanon and I know what’s in their best interest and how to protect them,” he said, to an outburst of applause from the audience who included Future Movement ministers and officials. Hariri also said there would be a minister in the new Cabinet close to former premier and MP Najib Mikati.
“Aoun will name one [Sunni minister], and I agreed on a Sunni MP with Mikati, who is the only [non-Future MP] who came to me and heads a political bloc. ... When I went to make a government lineup, I knew there were Sunnis outside Future, and that’s why I didn’t try to monopolize the Sunni representation,” he said, refuting Nasrallah’s claims that he was trying to monopolize the Sunni sect. “It is not Hezbollah who decides that I have to represent certain people,” Hariri said. “This is no way to talk to your partner in the country.” He noted that had the six pro-Hezbollah MPs taken part in the vote as one bloc, he would have had no choice but to represent them.
Turning to the economic situation, Hariri described it as “embarrassing.” He recalled the CEDRE conference, which garnered more than $11 billion in pledges and soft loans to Lebanon. “We have the possibility to get out of this crisis ... but why impede this and at whose expense? The people?”
While some said Nasrallah’s speech marked the end of the Taif Accord, including Druze leader Walid Joumblatt, Hariri said Lebanon owes the relative stability it enjoys today to Taif. “The Taif is the Constitution ... and the Constitution gives the prime-minister designate the right to form a government in agreement with the president only, and no third party.”
“I’ve said it before that Saad Hariri will not break. They tried to break me for 13 years and they couldn’t,” he added, in a defiant tone.
Shortly following his speech, Mikati took to Twitter to heap praise upon the premier-designate. Although the two were firm rivals in the May parliamentary elections, they seem to have put it behind them. “Your Excellency, I salute your respect for the Constitution, the Taif Accord and the powers granted to you, with hopes that others will [follow] you in your efforts to form a government and maintain stability in the country,” Mikati tweeted.
LF leader Samir Geagea said Hariri’s speech was “acceptable in its form and logical in its content.” Earlier he said Nasrallah’s speech was neither.
Monday, a political source told The Daily Star that an initiative of Free Patriotic Movement leader Gebran Bassil calls for naming a compromise Sunni candidate as a minister in the new Cabinet who would be part of President Michel Aoun’s share and “acceptable to both Hariri and the six Sunni MPs.”
Hezbollah’s Al-Manar TV blasted Hariri during the opening of its nightly news bulletin. “The prime minister-designate returned to the government formation scene after a long absence ... and closed the door for stepping down from his appointment, one that appears he never opened in the first place,” the broadcast said.
“He wanted to escape having an ‘independent’ Sunni MP, so he escaped to give a minister to a bloc of four MPs and only one Sunni among them,” Al-Manar said in reference to Mikati’s bloc. “So where is the criteria?”