US Ambassador to Lebanon Dorothy C. Shea on Thursday urged Lebanon’s leaders to form a new government and “rescue the country from the multiple crises and self-inflicted wounds” it was facing.
The country’s politicians have been unable to agree on who should be in the new government and what portfolios they should have, and there is also a dispute between President Michel Aoun and Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri about who is to blame for the stalemate.
#Lebanon’s outgoing PM Hassan Diab says it is the parliament’s decision whether to re-activate a resigned cabinet, after months of wrangling that has blocked a deal on a new government.https://t.co/sfCuGAUyGH— Al Arabiya English (@AlArabiya_Eng) March 25, 2021
The row has rumbled on for months, even as Lebanon grapples with the COVID-19 pandemic, the aftermath of the deadly Beirut Port explosion, social unrest and economic challenges.
Shea met Aoun on Thursday, saying afterwards that the importance and urgency of forming a government committed to and able to implement reforms had been discussed with the president.
“The United States has continuously reiterated its commitment to stand by and support the people of Lebanon. Right now, there is a need for courageous leaders, who are ready to put aside their partisan differences and work together to rescue the country from the multiple crises and self-inflicted wounds it is facing. I am confident that you can do this.”
She also told political activists that their demands, about their vision for the government, fighting corruption and holding parliamentary elections, should be “put aside.”
“Let’s focus on the here and now,” the ambassador said. “I know your government, your leaders are trying to form a government. And I would just say, respectfully, for anyone who has been placing demands on forming this government that your people so desperately need, and if those demands have resulted in blocking that government formation, I would ask: Now that we are almost eight months without a fully empowered government, isn’t now the time to let go of those demands? To begin compromising? It’s important to focus on building a government, not blocking a government. Thank you.”
Consultations between Aoun and Hariri reached a dead end earlier this week. Aoun insists on having the blocking third in any government being formed and naming the Christian ministers in it. Hariri, on the other hand, rejects the blocking third and is committed to a government of independent specialists.
Shea made her remarks before meeting Hariri, with a source close to the prime minister-designate saying that her statement could be read differently.
#Lebanon PM-designate Saad Hariri after meeting President Aoun says they agreed to meet again on Monday to get “answers” on forming a new government.— Timour Azhari (@timourazhari) March 18, 2021
“There is an opportunity, let’s try to seize it and have something on Monday,” he said.
Hariri was tasked 5 months ago.
“The ambassador announced her stance on the Baabda (presidential) Palace, and this was not after meeting with Hariri,” the source told Arab News. “Therefore, her stance may be directed at Aoun to stress the necessity of giving up the demand of the blocking third. In any case, if things are heading toward a settlement, let it be because the situation is intolerable.”
In his Thursday sermon Maronite Patriarch Bechara Al-Rai told Hariri to prepare an “excellent” government line-up and submit it to the president.
He urged both men to consult each other in a “pure and patriotic spirit” to agree on new names and the distribution of portfolios within the framework of equality and on the basis of the constitution and the National Pact, an unwritten agreement between then-President Bechara El-Khoury and Prime Minister Riad Al-Solh that founded independent Lebanon as a multi-confessional state.
Al-Rai’s sermon followed his telephone conversation with UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, who stressed the necessity of forming a government and the importance of keeping Lebanon away from all conflicts.
Former MP Faris Saeed said there would be no political breakthrough before the start of US-Iran negotiations.
"When there is no equity - when people see that politicians are getting the vaccines...this decreases the faith in the government and any of the steps that it takes" https://t.co/xTtymoWk64— The New Arab (@The_NewArab) March 25, 2021
“They are now trying to form a government by the terms of Hezbollah and with the help of the US,” he told Arab News. “In other words, they are trying to find an interim settlement to pass time. Of course, this settlement undermines the French initiative and will not open
Saudi doors to the authority in Lebanon. The Saudi ambassador was clear when he stressed the need to implement the decisions of international legitimacy. The Americans believe that a government based on a settlement is better than no government in light of the collapse into which Lebanon is sliding.”
The political wrangling came as people debated the 75 tons of oxygen that Syrian President Bashar Assad donated to Lebanon’s hospitals through Lebanese Health Minister Hamad Hassan, who visited Damascus.
Those who objected to the donation said the 75 tons would run out within three weeks in one hospital.
Suleiman Haroun, president of the Syndicate of Private Hospitals, said he was unaware of an oxygen shortage in hospitals and that there were two laboratories in Lebanon producing it.
Israel’s Health Ministry Director-General Hezi Levi on Thursday suggested the possibility of providing Lebanon’s hospitals with ventilators for treating COVID-19 patients.
But this offer was met with sarcasm on social media.
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