Future-Hezbollah dialogue on front burner, expected this month

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Future-Hezbollah dialogue on front burner, expected this month
Dec. 04, 2014
Hussein Dakroub| The Daily Star
BEIRUT: Preparations have been stepped up to launch a long-awaited dialogue between the Future Movement and Hezbollah deemed essential for easing Sunni-Shiite tensions and facilitating the election of a consensus president.

Interior Minister Nouhad Machnouk Wednesday joined Speaker Nabih Berri and lawmakers from the two rival parties in voicing optimism about the outcome of the talks between the Future Movement and Hezbollah, whose strained ties have heightened political and sectarian tensions and sometimes put the country on edge.

Berri was quoted by MPs who saw him during his weekly meeting with lawmakers in Ain al-Tineh as saying that the dialogue he has been seeking between Hezbollah and the Future Movement was on the right path.

“Matters are headed toward preparatory steps to start it [dialogue],” Berri said.

Machnouk, a key figure in the Future Movement, said he was optimistic about the outcome of the dialogue, adding that this dialogue should be given “a real chance.”

“The dialogue with Hezbollah will produce results. This dialogue can protect a minimum of national unity,” Machnouk said in an interview with MTV station Wednesday night. He said national unity was needed to face challenges of the next stage.

Machnouk said the first topics on the dialogue agenda are the prevention of sectarian strife in Lebanon and the possibility of reaching an understanding on “a consensus president.” He said he was hopeful about the election of a new president in the first six months of next year.

Hezbollah MP Nawar Saheli told MTV after meeting Berri: “I am optimistic [about the dialogue]. We have always extended our hand for dialogue and we are not setting any preconditions.” He said he expected talks between the two parties to begin soon.

MP Qassem Hashem from Berri’s parliamentary bloc also voiced optimism about the results of the planned Future-Hezbollah dialogue which he expected to begin in the first half of this month.

“The dialogue will have a positive impact, reduce tensions and open the door to a serious national debate over all divisive issues,” Hashem told the Voice of Lebanon radio station.

Future MP Ammar Houri said the dialogue with Hezbollah has entered “the phase of technical preparations in order to ensure its success.”

“The results of the dialogue depended on the conviction of everyone of the need to ensure its success by approaching it with objective and logical expectations,” he told the Voice of Lebanon radio station.

Houri said the proposed dialogue stood a good chance of success if the two parties agreed that the situation in Lebanon was serious due to the turmoil in the region and that the vacancy in the presidency seat was a grave development. In a development signaling a speeding up of the dialogue process, Nader Hariri, chief of former Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s staff, met Tuesday with Finance Minister Ali Hasan Khalil, a political aide to Berri, to discuss agenda proposals for the Future-Hezbollah talks.

Nader Hariri and Future MP Jamal Jarrah will represent their party in the dialogue, while Hezbollah will be represented by Hussein Khalil, a political aide to Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah, and a party lawmaker.

Meanwhile, the Council of Maronite Bishops slammed lawmakers for failing to elect a president over the past six months while they showed up in Parliament on Nov. 5 to extend their mandate for two years and seven months.

“The bishops are surprised that Parliament had been able to renew its mandate in violation of the Constitution and the democratic system, and at the same time failed to elect a president contrary to what is stipulated by the Constitution,” said a statement issued at the end of the bishops’ monthly meeting, chaired by Maronite Patriarch Beshara Rai in Bkirki.

“Is the danger of the vacancy in the presidency seat less serious than that of a Parliament vacuum?” the bishops asked.

They reiterated their call on lawmakers to respect the Constitution and elect a president rather than wait for “regional and international signals or a Christian consensus.”