The lines of communication between the country’s political blocs will be revived this week, fueled by the global desire to set up a international “security umbrella” over Lebanon that would protect it from regional tensions.
Sources told The Daily Star that President Michel Sleiman informed regional and Western officials that he met in New York during the annual U.N. General Assembly gathering of the situation in Lebanon, which has reached a point that calls for speeding up talks to save the country from a vacuum engulfing all of its institutions.
The sources said that Sleiman was relying on the international and regional rapprochements, particularly that between Washington and Tehran and Riyadh and Tehran, to achieve understandings and agreements within Lebanon on the shape of the government, its makeup and ministerial statement.
Political sources in the country expect a deal coinciding with the agreement over Syrian chemical weapons that is under American and Iranian sponsorship.
The first signs of the awaited internal Lebanese settlement, which is based on an Arab, regional and international rapprochement, is Sleiman’s indication in interviews with the BBC and Tele Liban that Hezbollah is on the verge of pulling its fighters out of Syria.
The statement is based on a number of factors gleaned out of the bilateral meetings held in New York, particularly with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani.
The sources linked President Sleiman’s statement to a broader political context of warming relations between the U.S. and Iran after the phone call between President Barack Obama and Rouhani, which signals the start of a new political era in the region that will feature settlements and normalization on a number of levels.
The sources said the presidential delegation was optimistic, noting that there was international agreement that Lebanon should be isolated from the crisis in Syria in anticipation of a regional settlement. Such a settlement will begin with a pilgrimage visit by the Iranian president to Saudi Arabia, during which he will meet the Saudi king, which will augment an international settlement between Washington and Moscow.
The first signs of this regional resolution will be Hezbollah pulling its fighters from Syria and the diminishing of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps’ presence in some Syrian cities, in return for Saudi Arabia halting its support for Al-Qaeda elements in Syria while retaining its assistance to the Free Syrian Army.
Members of the presidential delegation said Lebanon would be the main beneficiary of this new political stage, though it will not solve all of its internal crises. Lebanon will await the conclusion of regional and international talks on the Syrian chemical weapons issue and Iran’s nuclear file, particularly since a resolution of the first problem will take the Syrian crisis from the street to the negotiating table of the Geneva II peace conference in November, according to diplomatic sources.
This potential improvement in the regional situation was reflected in measures, confirmed by a security official, which relaxed many of the procedures taken by Arab and Western embassies after the latest car bombs in Lebanon and talk of an American strike on Syria, as a result of the return of calm to the Lebanese scene and the protective, international “security umbrella” over Lebanon.
The security official said that embassy staff who departed from Lebanon were instructed to remain careful and vigilant and were restricted from visiting dangerous areas in the country. The staff returned after the American-Russian agreement on Syria. Only the staff of the American Embassy remains incomplete due to a decision by the State Department to await the results of regional and international talks.
Sources say there is noticeable movement on the issue of the Cabinet formation, with exceptional efforts that were evident in the meeting in recent days between former Prime Minister Fouad Siniora and Speaker Nabih Berri, which featured a long discussion on reviving Berri’s government initiative while leaving the issue of the defense strategy separate. It was agreed that the current priority is social and livelihood issues in light of the difficulties faced by the Lebanese Treasury, which is evident in problems with paying the salaries of public sector employees.
On the Cabinet formation, a glimmer of hope appeared in indications by more than one political faction pointing to a near-agreement on the ministerial agenda of the Cabinet, which could revive talks that are stalled over issues like the kingmaker minister, the entire makeup of the Cabinet and veto power.
The agreement under consideration would include a form of the tripartite declaration of the “Army, people and resistance,” but while separating the words in the text of the declaration by placing them on different lines. The agreement would also include the Baabda Declaration, drafted last year and intended to isolate Lebanon from regional crises. Most of the declaration’s provisions have internal support among the various political factions.