Interview with Maronite Patriarch Nasrallah Butros Sfeir

New government could solve crisis
By Elias Sakr /Daily Star staff

BKIRKI: Maronite Patriarch Nasrallah Butros Sfeir said Tuesday the formation of a new Cabinet could be the solution to the current political impasse but added that Prime Minister Saad Hariri was still the right man to lead any government.

“There is talk about a new government, which could be the solution [for the current political impasse.] However, harmony should reign among government members if they are to govern,” Sfeir told The Daily Star in an interview held in Bkirki, the seat of the Maronite Patriarchate overlooking the bay of Jounieh.

Asked to comment on the possibility of forming a new Cabinet headed by someone other than Hariri, the softly spoken Sfeir said, “I do not know but Hariri is the most prominent man who imposed himself under the current circumstances.”
At the Maronite patriarch’s grand hall, Sfeir elaborated on the latest political developments.

“There should be interaction among government members to be capable of governing, whereas if every group pulls the rope to its side, then the Cabinet will fail to move forward,” he added, reiterating his earlier statements, questioning the competence of a Cabinet comprising both the opposition and the majority.

“Lack of mutual understanding reigns and differences exist over most topics,” he said.

Sfeir said he was “unaware of new developments” in the Saudi-Syrian efforts to put an end to the political deadlock. The regional contacts are aimed at buying time to avoid a rupture in dialogue and consequently tension among the Lebanese.
“Nevertheless, efforts continue in favor of uniting the Lebanese,” he added.

Asked whether French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner discussed with him during his visit to Lebanon regional contacts that might lead to the amendment of the Taif Accord, Sfeir said no party brought up the subject before him.

“We do not mind an amendment to the Taif equation if it is for the better but if it is for the worse of course we will reject it,” he added.
Sfeir, who was visited earlier in the day by Saudi Ambassador Ali Awad Osseiri, said Riyadh “is keen to preserve security in Lebanon and to bring the Lebanese closer to each other.”
The patriarch described as politically motivated news reports concerning scenarios that might follow the issuance of the indictment by the Special Tribunal for Lebanon, which Hizbullah says is set to implicate members of the party.

“This is political activity and everyone through such endeavors is insisting on his point of view for the purpose of achieving personal gains,” he said.
Sfeir said media reports that the opposition would attempt a coup might be aimed only to intimidate.

Recent reports by the pro-Hizbullah daily Al-Akhbar said the party was planning to besiege a number of security institutions and Hariri’s residence if the STL indictment involves some its members. Hizbullah neither confirmed nor denied the reports.

However, when asked whether he was concerned that such scenarios would take place, Sfeir said “I cannot answer that question but some might have hidden intentions to launch a coup. However, such claims could have no valid basis.”

As for Hizbullah’s escalatory stances in condemnation of the STL, Sfeir said “the tribunal was established and exists as investigations are being carried out, while Hizbullah certainly wants to refute the accusation against it and this is a way to do so.”

“We want the government and the tribunal along with stability,” Sfeir said when asked whether he endorsed Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea’s position that he would choose to keep the tribunal over the Cabinet if facing a choice between the two.

Touching on the issue of US support for Lebanon’s stability, Sfeir said the United States had not conveyed to him any guarantees in that regard.
“I am not aware of any guarantees but they say that they support an independent Lebanon where calm and tranquility reign,” he said. Asked whether he trusted such pronouncements, Sfeir, laughing, said “it is better than opposite [statements].”

Asked about MP Walid Jumblatt’s recent positions, Sfeir said politicians shift stances in line with changing circumstances in order to fulfill their objective.
“I do not believe he is helpless but he follows his political compass, which determines his course of action,” he added when asked whether Jumblatt was forced to shift positions and move closer to the March 8 coalition.

On another note, Sfeir denied that the patriarchate called for Monday’s March 14 Christian parties’ gathering at Bkirki but said it was rather March 14 parties that asked to visit the patriarchate “whose doors are open for all.”

“We welcome whoever comes to us; March 14 personalities came, so we received them and if others want to come, we will do the same,” Sfeir said.
Asked whether the gathering aimed to strengthen the role of March 14 Christian groups within the March 14 alliance to ensure that their ally, the Future Movement, would not adopt unilateral decisions, Sfeir said the patriarchate lacked knowledge of any intentions behind the visit.



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