First Published: 2009-06-13

Hariri: dialogue only way for Lebanon

Hariri strikes conciliatory tone on Hezbollah weapons, slams Israeli actions in Lebanon.


Middle East Online

Tapped as Lebanon's next prime minister

BEIRUT - Saad Hariri said on Friday that dialogue was the only way of tackling Hezbollah's weapons after his coalition defeated resistance group and its allies in a general election.

"In Lebanon, we need to have a dialogue when it comes to the weapons of Hezbollah," siad Hariri, who is tapped as Lebanon's next prime minister, striking a conciliatory tone.

Hezbollah's arsenal has been a thorn in the side of the outgoing national unity government and at the centre of a three-year-old national dialogue to define a defence strategy for Lebanon.

But the resistance group has steadfastly refused to abandon its weapons arguing that they are needed to defend the country against Israeli attacks.

Hariri insisted that all differences between his majority coalition and the Hezbollah camp must be resolved at the negotiating table.

"We need to sit down first of all and accept (the outcome) of the election ... and make sure that when we have a dialogue. It should be a calm dialogue," said Hariri, billionaire son and political heir of slain ex-premier Rafiq Hariri.

"We need to see what are the common issues that we all agree on and then the differences will be resolved."

He said he would not "shy away" from becoming prime minister if his coalition nominates him to the post.

"I will discuss it with my allies, I will not shy away from it," he said. "If we decide, all of us together, that this is what we want, that this is what is good for Lebanon, then we will take it from there."

He also cautioned against any faction setting conditions before the new government is formed. Negotiations will begin after the new parliament is swon in on June 20.

"The most important thing... is for everyone not to preempt positions," Hariri said. "For the sake of Lebanon, for the sake of stability, we should not preposition ourselves.

"Let's be a little wise for once and benefit from the vote that was cast on Sunday," Hariri added.

"It (the vote) affirmed out democracy and a majority came out and everybody needs to read into all of these messages from the Lebanese people."

Hezbollah and its allies have demanded that the veto power over key decisions that they enjoy in the outgoing government be maintained.

Hariri's camp has said it would not accept this request while Hariri said it was too early to speculate on such demans.

"I am not going to speak about this issue," he said. "We held elections, everyone must read into them and when we reach the time for negotiations and naming the head of government we'll see."

He also stressed that he was confident the country would not plunge into another political crisis as the one that brought Lebanon close to civil war last year.

"I am extremely confident and optimistic that we will be wise enough to avoid Lebanon any political instability," he said.

Israel waged a bloody 34-day war on Lebanon in the summer of 2006 after Hezbollah fighters seized two Israeli soldiers in a deadly cross-border raid that aimed to free Lebanese soldiers from Israeli prisons. The bodies of the soldiers were returned in a prisoner swap.

The war claimed the lives of more than 1,200 people in Lebanon, most of them civilians, and more than 160 Israelis, most of them soldiers.

Hezbollah, originally a resistance group formed to counter an Israeli occupation of south Lebanon, had forced the Israeli military out of Lebanon in 2000. Israel, however, continues to occupy the Lebanese Shabaa Farms.

Israeli flights over Lebanon occur on an almost daily basis and are in breach of UN Security Council resolution 1710, which in August 2006 ended the war.

"The Israelis need to understand that Lebanese airspace is not theirs, that Lebanese waters is not theirs and having spy networks in Lebanon is not acceptable according to UN Resolution 1701," he said.


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