BEIRUT: Superstition Spurs 13th Delay Of Policy Statement

By Hussein Abdallah

Daily Star
Aug 1 2008

BEIRUT: Information Minister Tarek Mitri said on Thursday that the
ministerial committee in charge of drafting a policy statement for
the new government has almost reached an agreement on the final draft
of such statement.

Mitri told reporters at the Grand Serail after the 13th meeting of the
committee that a final meeting will be held at 6 p.m. on Friday after
which the government will be ready to sit for a vote of confidence in
Parliament. "Some parties have their reservations about terminology
issues in some parts of the ministerial statement, but we are positive
that all obstacles will be overcome by Friday," Mitri said.

"Had I not been sure about that I would not have said that Friday’s
meeting will be the committee’s last meeting," the minister added.

Asked why such obstacles have not been dealt with by the committee on
Thursday, Mitri said that reaching an agreement in the 13th meeting
was bad omen. "We did not want to have everything done in the 13th
meeting since many people are pessimistic about the number 13."

Meanwhile, well-informed sources told The Daily Star on Thursday that
the committee had agreed on the phrases that will be used regarding
the issue of "the resistance."

The sources said that the ministerial statement will likely emphasize
on the resistance’s historical role, sacrifices, and its achievements,
the last of which was liberating all Lebanese prisoners in Israeli

The sources added that the statement will also recognize the right
of the Lebanese people to resist Israeli occupation, while stressing
the role of the Lebanese state in protecting Lebanon’s sovereignty
and independence and providing security for all Lebanese citizens.

The committee met at the Grand Serail Thursday evening shortly after
a brief meeting between Labor Minister Mohammad Fneish (Hizbullah)
and Prime Minister Fouad Siniora.

Fneish left the government headquarters after the meeting with Siniora
and joined the committee’s meeting later after holding consultations
with Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri and Hizbullah’s leadership.

Upon his return to the Grand Serail, Fneish told reporters that
the committee was very close to reaching an agreement over the new
ministerial statement.

Earlier on Thursday, a Hizbullah delegation, made up of Fneish and
Hizbullah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah’s political aide Hussein
Khalil, held two separate meetings with Siniora and Berri as part of
efforts to facilitate an agreement over the new ministerial statement.

Meanwhile, Minister of State Youssef Taqla, also a member of the
ministerial committee, said after meeting Lebanese Forces leader
Samir Geagea that the committee was likely to finish with drafting
the new ministerial statement on Thursday.

Geagea also received at his residence in Maarab President Michel
Sleiman’s political adviser Nazem Khoury, who told reporters after
the meeting that the issue of Hizbullah’s possession of arms would
be among the major issue that will be dealt with in the upcoming
national dialogue to be organized by the president.

"The defense strategy will be a main item on the agenda," he said

Khoury noted that the dialogue is not related to President Michel
Sleiman’s upcoming visit to Damascus and said that preparations for
the dialogue are under way.

Sleiman is expected to visit Damascus to discuss bilateral ties between
Lebanon and Syria after Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Moallem delivered
an invitation for the Lebanese president from his Syrian counterpart
Bashar Assad.

Khoury also visited the Armenian Tashnak Party on Thursday and
discussed with MP Hagop Pakradounian the prospects of the upcoming
national dialogue.

On Wednesday, the ministerial committee met for the twelfth time but
failed to reach agreement, with Mitri saying the discussions revolved
around the phrasing of the document.

"Hopefully I will read a statement to you that is as clear as
sunshine," Mitri said, adding that the committee would meet again
on Thursday.

The government will officially take office only after a parliamentary
vote of confidence on the policy statement.

The cabinet, in which the opposition has the right of veto, was formed
on July 11 after weeks of bickering, despite a May power-sharing
agreement struck in Qatar that ended a protracted political dispute.

"The socio-economic issues have been settled, the stumbling block is
the issue of Hizbullah’s weapons," said a member of the ministerial
committee drafting the statement.

The Hizbullah-led opposition insists on including a phrase
acknowledging the "right to resist" Israel, while the parliamentary
majority insists on wording that indicates that only the state can
make decisions of war and peace.

"No single party has a monopoly on the right [to resist], or imposing
its own methods and choices without taking into account the principle
of preserving the state," Siniora said in a statement on Thursday.

Meanwhile, Hussein Khalil said after meeting Free Patriotic Movement
leader MP Michel Aoun on Thursday that there will be no ministerial
statement without "the resistance." "There is no Lebanon without the
resistance … and to be short I will tell you that there will be no
ministerial statement without the resistance," he told reporters.

The controversy over Hizbullah’s weapons intensified after its
fighters captured two Israeli soldiers in a cross-border raid in
July 2006 and the Jewish state responded to the border incident by
launching a devastating 34-day war on Lebanon.

The issue boiled to the surface again when Hizbullah led an armed
takeover of large swathes of predominantly Sunni west Beirut in
fierce fighting in May that left at least 65 people dead. – additional
reporting by Nafez Qawas and AFP