BEIRUT: Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri’s return to Beirut is expected to revive talks on the stalled Cabinet formation process, an official source said Wednesday, amid a flurry of activity undertaken by the head of General Security who is seeking to promote a proposal aimed at breaking the deadlock.
Hariri returned Tuesday night from Abu Dhabi where he held talks with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov centering on the crisis-hit situation and developments in Lebanon and the region, including the Cabinet formation deadlock, now in its seventh month.
Hariri gained Russia’s support for his drive to form a Cabinet of nonpartisan specialists and his refusal to include representatives of political parties in the new government, according to a statement issued after the meeting by the Russian Foreign Ministry. The statement underlined the “importance of quickly overcoming the socio-economic crisis through the formation of a mission and capable government made up of technocrats.”
The Russian support for a government of technocrats coincided with reports that Moscow also backed Hariri’s proposal for forming a Cabinet without granting veto power to any party.
As part of his ongoing mediation efforts to narrow differences between President Michel Aoun and Hariri over the Cabinet formation, General Security chief Maj. Gen. Abbas Ibrahim was expected to meet with the premier-designate to sound out his views on a proposal that calls for the formation of a “mission government” made up of 18 non-political specialists and not based on quotas among rival factions as had happened in previous governments.
The proposal would allow Aoun to name five ministers, in addition to the Armenian Tashnag party’s minister in the proposed 18-member Cabinet of nonpartisan specialists.
Ibrahim’s proposal effectively denies any party a “blocking third” or veto power, one of the major hurdles that have hindered the government formation since Hariri was designated on Oct. 22 to set up a proposed 18-member Cabinet of nonpartisan experts to enact reforms contained in the French initiative designed to rescue Lebanon from an unprecedented economic meltdown, the worst since the 1975-90 Civil War.
The outcome of Ibrahim’s meeting with Hariri was seen crucial with regard to the success of the proposal to resolve the Cabinet crisis.
By evening, there was no word on whether Ibrahim had met with Hariri.
A source close to Hariri told The Daily Star Wednesday night: “Prime Minister Hariri has not been informed of any initiative and he has not met with Maj. Gen. Ibrahim for two weeks.”
Ahead of his talks with Hariri, Ibrahim Tuesday met separately with Aoun and Maronite Patriarch Bechara al-Rai to rally their support for this proposal.
Ibrahim, who had previously mediated in political crises, has been shuttling between Aoun, Hariri, Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri and Rai as part of his mediation bid. Berri was reported to have voiced support for Ibrahim’s proposal.
“Maj. Gen. Ibrahim’s proposal is the most serious initiative to resolve the Cabinet crisis. Details of the initiative have been made public and it might undergo minor amendments during the give-and-take talks,” the official source familiar with the matter told The Daily Star.
The source said that Ibrahim had met with Rai, who is in constant contact with Hariri and also briefed Aoun on his ongoing contacts.
“Ibrahim’s initiative is the only one available in the market. We hope it will gain sufficient internal consensus,” the source said, adding: “Outside powers, including France, Russia and even America, which is preoccupied with its internal situation after the advent of a new administration, are supporting the proposed solution to the Cabinet crisis.”
“Any solution to the Cabinet crisis needs internal and external support in order to get off the ground,” the source said.
Walid Ghayyad, the media spokesman in Bkirki, the Maronite patriarch’s seat, described Ibrahim’s meeting with Rai as “positive.”
“There is hope for the formation of the government at a time that is not far. Pressure must be exerted in all directions to facilitate the formation,” Ghayyad said.
Future Movement MP Walid Baarini said efforts were being exerted to sort out the “sticking points” and facilitate the Cabinet formation, adding that Hariri’s tour of Arab and friendly states came in this context.
“Drumming up international support is aimed at using the momentum in the formation of the government. It also aims to secure aid to Lebanon in order to begin the recovery process after the government formation,” Baarini said in a statement.
Eight days of nationwide street protests that raged in the country against the worsening economic and living conditions have so far failed to revive talks between Aoun and Hariri on the Cabinet crisis and nudge them into softening their conflicting positions on key ministerial seats, namely the Justice and Interior ministries, and the naming of Christian ministers.
As a solution to the problem of the Interior portfolio, which Hariri insists on controlling, Aoun was reported to have proposed the names of three nonpartisan candidates for Hariri to choose one of them.
Meanwhile, a four-member dialogue committee representing the Maronite patriarchate and Hezbollah held an ice-breaking meeting in Bkirki Tuesday following tensions arising from Rai’s calls for an international conference to rescue Lebanon and declare its neutrality. Rai’s calls have deepened political divisions in the already politically split country reeling from multiple crises.
“The participants discussed the tragic conditions through which Lebanon is passing. They stressed the need to speed up the formation of a government capable of dealing with the disasters from which the Lebanese people are reeling and the need to revitalize the economy at all levels,” a statement issued by Hezbollah’s media office said.
In discussing the divisive issue of “positive neutrality” proposed by Rai last month, the participants “agreed to pursue this discussion at later meetings.”
Hezbollah has rejected Rai’s calls for Lebanon’s neutrality and for an international conference, saying internationalization posed “a danger to Lebanon.” The Higher Islamic Shiite Council has also rejected Rai’s call for an international conference on Lebanon.