Hariri seeks guarantees as Lebanon PM forms govt

Lebanon`s Prime Minister designate Najib Mikati on Thursday began talks on forming a new government as his rivals sought a commitment on a UN court at the centre of a dispute that brought down the previous cabinet.

Last Updated: Jan 27, 2011, 23:28 PM IST

Beirut: Lebanon`s Prime Minister
designate Najib Mikati on Thursday began talks on forming a new
government as his rivals sought a commitment on a UN court at
the centre of a dispute that brought down the previous
cabinet.

Outgoing premier Saad Hariri`s Future Movement said
Mikati, who is backed by the powerful Hezbollah, had been
asked to state clearly whether his government would cease all
cooperation with the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL).

"We asked the prime minister-designate to clarify his
position and state it clearly in his policy statement," said
MP Fuad Siniora, whose party has refused to join the new
government.

The STL was set up in the aftermath of the 2005
assassination of ex-premier Rafiq Hariri, Saad`s father.

A months-long standoff between the Shiite Hezbollah
and Sunni Muslim Hariri over the STL led to the Iranian- and
Syrian-backed militant party on January 12 forcing the
collapse of Hariri`s government.

Hezbollah, blacklisted as a terrorist organisation by
Washington, had been pressing the Western-backed Hariri to cut
all ties with the tribunal, and Mikati is expected to come
under the same pressure.

Siniora said Mikati was asked to say whether he would
stop Lebanon`s share of funding for the Netherlands-based
court, remove the three Lebanese judges on the STL and
renounce the protocol of agreement concerning the court.

Officials from Hariri`s party said that once Mikati
clarifies his position, the Future Movement and its allies
would decide how to deal with the new government.
"Mikati`s answers will condition our attitude toward
his government," one official close to Hariri said, requesting
anonymity.

He would not clearly state whether members of Hariri`s
coalition could still join the new government.

The 55-year-old premier designate said this week in an
interview with a news agency that he hoped to resolve the dispute over
the tribunal through dialogue, and acknowledged that Lebanon
could not force the tribunal to stop its work.

He added, however, that the country`s cooperation with
the STL was another question altogether, without elaborating.

Mikati, a moderate lawmaker with good ties to Syria
and Saudi Arabia, was meeting the parliamentary groups today
and Friday before reporting back to President Michel Sleiman.

PTI