Hariri, Putin dis­cuss bi­lat­eral ties, Syria, refugee cri­sis

Premier-des­ig­nate says not wor­ried about de­lay in Cab­i­net for­ma­tion

The Daily Star (Lebanon) - - FRONT PAGE - By Hus­sein Dakroub

BEIRUT: Less than a month since his reap­point­ment to the premier­ship, Prime Min­is­ter-des­ig­nate Saad Hariri sought Wed­nes­day to re­as­sure the Le­banese, say­ing he was not wor­ried about a de­lay in the for­ma­tion of a new gov­ern­ment de­spite what he called the “am­bi­tions” of po­lit­i­cal par­ties to grab key min­is­te­rial port­fo­lios.

Hariri spoke to re­porters af­ter an hour­long meet­ing in Moscow with Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin at the Krem­lin for talks cen­ter­ing on de­vel­op­ments in Le­banon and the re­gion, the Syr­ian refugee cri­sis and bi­lat­eral re­la­tions, in­clud­ing trade, ac­cord­ing a state­ment re­leased by Hariri’s me­dia of­fice.

Hariri ar­rived in Moscow shortly af­ter mid­night Wed­nes­day to at­tend the open­ing of the FIFA World Cup along with other lead­ers. The Moscow trip, to be fol­lowed by

Hariri’s visit to Saudi Ara­bia to spend the Eid al-Fitr hol­i­day later this week with his fam­ily and join Eid prayers in the holy city of Mecca, has put at­tempts to form a new gov­ern­ment on hold un­til next week.

Hariri’s meet­ing with Putin came on the eve of the open­ing of the 2018 World Cup, which be­gins Thurs­day with a match be­tween Rus­sia and Saudi Ara­bia.

Me­dia re­ports sug­gested Hariri may meet with Saudi Crown Prince Mo­ham­mad bin Sal­man while in Moscow. Prince Mo­ham­mad is among the other world lead­ers in­vited to at­tend the World Cup’s open­ing match.

Asked what his pur­pose is be­hind tak­ing his time in form­ing the gov­ern­ment, Hariri said: “There is no pur­pose. We are at the end of the holy month of Ra­madan and there is a hol­i­day.

“I would have liked to form the gov­ern­ment be­fore Eid, but we all know that each of the po­lit­i­cal par­ties has am­bi­tions [to ob­tain key min­istries] and we are talk­ing to every­one un­til we reach a so­lu­tion. I am not wor­ried about a de­lay in the for­ma­tion of the gov­ern­ment . ... We [par­ties] should think about pro­duc­tiv­ity and not about how many min­is­ters we can have.”

The Cen­tral News Agency quoted sources close to the Grand Serail, the prime min­is­ter’s head­quar­ters, as say­ing that Hariri has so far been “sat­is­fied with the progress of the for­ma­tion ef­forts be­cause he has not yet run into in­sur­mount­able prob­lems or im­pos­si­ble con­di­tions, but rea­son­able de­mands made by po­lit­i­cal forces dur­ing the for­ma­tion of a gov­ern­ment.”

In a bid to ac­cel­er­ate the Cab­i­net for­ma­tion, Hariri pre­sented to Aoun Mon­day a pre­lim­i­nary pro­posal to form a 30-mem­ber gov­ern­ment rep­re­sent­ing all the po­lit­i­cal par­ties.

He out­lined the Cab­i­net shares among the blocs with the largest rep­re­sen­ta­tion based on the re­sults of last month’s elec­tions.

Hariri, who was des­ig­nated on May 24 with a sweep­ing par­lia­men­tary ma­jor­ity to form a gov­ern­ment for the third time, has pleaded with ri­val fac­tions, com­pet­ing for key min­is­te­rial posts, to lower their de­mands.

Hariri said his talks with Putin fo­cused on the prob­lem of Syr­ian refugees in Le­banon and their re­turn to Syria.

“We talked about var­i­ous is­sues con­cern­ing Le­banon, the re­gion and bi­lat­eral re­la­tions. We also talked about the Syr­ian refugees and their re­turn to Syria and Rus­sia’s help in this re­gard, es­pe­cially con­cern­ing Law 10. It was ex­tended for one year but must be fur­ther clar­i­fied.

“The Syr­ian regime has to ex­plain this is­sue bet­ter, so as not to sug­gest that the refugees in Le­banon are not en­ti­tled to re­turn to Syria,” Hariri said.

“The rights of the Syr­ian refugees in their coun­try must be per­ma­nent and no one should take them away. We spoke at length about this and the re­gion’s af­fairs.”

Hariri and other Le­banese of­fi­cials have crit­i­cized Syria’s con­tro­ver­sial Law 10, which had pre­vi­ously given Syr­i­ans 30 days to regis­ter their pri­vate prop­er­ties be­fore they were seized by the state. The dead­line was later ex­tended to one year af­ter global back­lash.

Hariri’s re­marks came as a pub­lic spat be­tween Le­banon and the U.N. refugee agency deep­ened Wed­nes­day as care­taker For­eign Min­is­ter Ge­bran Bas­sil kept up his crit­i­cism of the UNHCR, again ac­cus­ing it of dis­cour­ag­ing Syr­ian refugees from re­turn­ing home.

Le­banon is home to al­most a mil­lion Syr­ian refugees reg­is­tered with the UNHCR, or about a quar­ter of the coun­try’s pop­u­la­tion, putting a huge strain on the coun­try’s ailing econ­omy and frail in­fra­struc­ture.

At the be­gin­ning of the meet­ing in Moscow, which was also at­tended by Rus­sian For­eign Min­is­ter Sergey Lavrov, Putin con­grat­u­lated Hariri on his des­ig­na­tion to form gov­ern­ment, say­ing: “You have the task of form­ing the new gov­ern­ment. We have to con­tinue en­hanc­ing trade ex­change be­tween the two coun­tries, es­pe­cially as there is a short­age in this area, and we must make ef­forts to aug­ment this ex­change.

“We also have to in­ten­sify the work of the [Le­banon-Rus­sia] Joint Gov­ern­men­tal Com­mit­tee.”

Hariri replied not­ing that “eco­nomic re­la­tions be­tween Le­banon and Rus­sia are be­low the re­quired level, but there is some progress, and through fol­low-up we will make more progress, es­pe­cially in the next gov­ern­ment.”

Hariri last met Putin in the Rus­sian Black Sea re­sort of Sochi in Septem­ber 2017.

Mean­while, MP Mo­ham­mad Raad, the head of Hezbol­lah’s newly elected 13-mem­ber bloc in Par­lia­ment, called for ac­cel­er­at­ing the for­ma­tion of a new gov­ern­ment, stress­ing that the waste of pub­lic funds can­not be halted with­out Cab­i­net’s for­ma­tion.

As part of an on­go­ing war of words be­tween the Free Pa­tri­otic Move­ment and the Le­banese Forces, LF chief Samir Geagea struck back at Bas­sil, the FPM leader, for con­sis­tently crit­i­ciz­ing min­istries held by LF min­is­ters.

“If you want to know the mo­tives be­hind Bas­sil’s at­tacks on the Le­banese Forces’ min­is­ters, be­gin­ning with the health to the so­cial af­fairs min­is­ters, search for the elec­tric­ity barges deal. Every time we harden our con­fronta­tion against the pass­ing of deals, the level of cam­paigns against us rises,” Geagea told the Cen­tral News Agency.

At the be­gin­ning of the meet­ing, Putin con­grat­u­lated Hariri on his des­ig­na­tion to form gov­ern­ment.

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