BEIRUT (Reuters) - Lebanon’s former premier Saad al-Hariri and his political allies will not join the government of his successor, Hezbollah-backed Najib Mikati, sources close to Hariri said on Thursday.
Mikati started talks on Thursday to form a government to succeed Hariri, who was brought down by resignations of Hezbollah ministers and their allies two weeks ago, and had urged his rival to join a government of all Lebanese factions.
“March 14 will not take part in the formation of the government,” one source told Reuters, referring to Hariri’s coalition.
The movement had earlier demanded Mikati maintain Lebanon’s ties to a U.N.-backed tribunal investigating the 2005 killing of Hariri’s father, Sunni Muslim statesman Rafik al-Hariri.
The tribunal is at the heart of a dispute between Hariri and Shi’ite movement Hezbollah, which expects the court to accuse some of its members in the killing. Mikati said that he would seek consensus in Lebanon on dealing with the court.
Mikati, a billionaire centrist lawmaker, defeated Hariri with support from Hezbollah and its allies for the post of prime minister on Tuesday, triggering protests by Hariri loyalists in some Sunni areas.
Hezbollah allies have said the priority of a new government will be to withdraw Lebanese judges and funding for the tribunal.
Mohammed Raad, head of Hezbollah’s bloc in parliament, said after meeting Mikati the group did not impose any conditions on him and had not requested specific cabinet posts.
Druze leader Talal Arslan, a Hezbollah ally, said all Lebanese factions should work together “to save the country, specially from the tribunal which is threatening Lebanon’s (stability).”
Hezbollah has denied involvement in the assassination of Rafik al-Hariri and brought down his son’s government two weeks ago after he refused its demand to cut ties with the court.
The head of Hariri’s parliamentary bloc, Fouad Siniora, said the movement had called on Mikati “to commit not to agree on cutting Lebanon’s ties with the tribunal, including a request to stop its funding or withdrawing the Lebanese judges.”
Mikati’s designation was seen as a victory for Hezbollah, shifting the balance of power in Lebanon to its regional allies Syria and Iran. The United States, which backs Hariri, said it was watching closely Mikati’s moves to forming a government.
But the telecoms tycoon who is close to both Syria and Saudi Arabia, frequent rivals for influence who spent months on a failed initiative to bridge Lebanon’s divisions over the tribunal, says he seeks consensus and support of all camps.
Analysts and Lebanese officials say Mikati would not have won the support of 68 of the 128-member parliament if Riyadh objected to his nomination.
In an interview with Reuters on Wednesday, Mikati said he was not giving himself a deadline to form his government and declined to say whether he believed Lebanon should withdraw judges and funding for the tribunal.
In the absence of Hariri and his allies, Mikati said he would prefer to form a cabinet of technocrats.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said on Tuesday that the emergence of a Hezbollah-controlled government would “clearly have an impact” on U.S. relations with Lebanon.
Hezbollah had two ministers in Hariri’s unity government and Mikati said he would seek Hezbollah’s contribution.
“Whatever I believe Hezbollah can do in the interests of Lebanon, I will not hesitate one second to ask Hezbollah to do it,” he said in the interview in a heavily guarded apartment block in central Beirut. “The burden is not light, it is heavy and I need the support of everybody.”
Additional reporting by Dominic Evans in Beirut; editing by Maria Golovnina