BEIRUT: Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri Thursday denied reports that he was waiting for Saudi Arabia’s approval for the formation of a new government, stressing that he was only waiting for President Michel Aoun’s agreement on a proposed 18-member Cabinet of nonpartisan specialists.
In a statement released by his media office, Hariri also denied he had rejected an alleged proposal by Aoun to name five ministers, in addition to the Tashnag minister, in the 18-member Cabinet in the in exchange for controlling the Interior Ministry.
“Prime Minister Hariri, and unlike Hezbollah which always awaits his decision from Iran, is not waiting for the approval of any external party, neither Saudi Arabia nor anyone else, to form the government. Rather, Hariri is awaiting President Aoun’s approval of a Cabinet lineup of specialists, with the alterations that Prime Minister Hariri proposed publicly in his speech that was transmitted live on Feb.14, and not through press leaks, as seems to be the case today,” the statement said.
Hariri’s remarks came in response to an article published by Al-Akhbar newspaper Thursday claiming that Aoun told General Security chief Maj. Gen. Abbas Ibrahim that he would settle for nominating five ministers, in addition to the Tashnag party’s minister in a government of 18 ministers.
The paper added that Aoun insisted in return to obtain the Interior portfolio, and that MP Gebran Bassil, head of the Free Patriotic Movement, would refrain from granting the government a vote confidence. It claimed that the surprise came when Hariri rejected Aoun's proposal, and explained it by saying that the premier-designate did not want to form a government before obtaining the approval of Saudi Arabia.
“Prime Minister Hariri did not receive any official comments from President Aoun in this regard, which means that those who leaked the information only aim to transfer the accusation of obstruction from President Aoun and MP Bassil to Prime Minister Hariri,” the statement issued by Hariri’s office said.
In a televised speech on Feb. 14 addressing the Lebanese on the 16th anniversary of the assassination of his father, former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, who was killed along with 21 others in a massive suicide truck bombing on Feb. 14, 2005, Hariri bluntly accused Aoun of blocking the formation of a new government by insisting on veto power.
The premier-designate said Aoun had rejected his proposed Cabinet lineup of 18 nonpartisan specialists to implement essential reforms in line with the French initiative to rescue Lebanon from multiple crises, because he wanted a share of six ministers, plus an Armenian Tashnag minister, or seven ministers, meaning a blocking third, or veto power. Hariri has vowed not to grant veto power to any party in the new government.
Hariri flew to the United Arab Emirates Wednesday after waiting for days for a contact from Aoun to meet to discuss with him his proposed Cabinet lineup of 18 nonpartisan specialists he presented to the president on Dec. 9. The new Cabinet would be tasked with implementing a reform program contained in the French initiative designed to rescue Lebanon from its worst economic and financial crunch since the 1975-90 Civil War.