Assad Throws Ball in Lebanon’s Court: Aoun’s Conditions End Optimism Surrounding Cabinet Formation

The wave of optimism surrounding the formation of the Lebanese government has diminished after Free Patriotic Movement leader MP Michel Aoun renewed his demands over the distribution of portfolios.

The pan-Arab daily Al-Hayat reported on Saturday that Progressive Socialist Party leader MP Walid Jumblat and Marada Movement leader MP Suleiman Franjieh’s recent visits to Syria where they met Syrian President Bashar Assad presented a “strong push towards forming the government.”

Attentions are drawn to Lebanon where concessions are expected to be made in order to facilitate the Cabinet formation.

The daily said that the visits were aimed at eliminating accusations that Syria was behind the delay in the government formation process.

Sources monitoring the process stated: “The Syrian leadership sought to send a message that the ball is in now in Lebanon’s court and the Lebanese should take it upon themselves to overcome the obstacles standing in their way.”

“Syria is also questioning the causes for the delay and it stands firm in its position of rejecting interfering in the government formation process as long as the formation is limited to one political camp,” they added.

“Its refusal to intervene does not mean that Damascus will stand idly by if the political vacuum in Lebanon persists and its allies continue on wearing each other out without any political justification,” the sources noted.

“Syria’s message to speed up the formation has reached its target audience in the March 8 camp,” they stressed.

They added that Aoun will be forced to soften his position regarding the formation “when he senses that the Syrian pressure will leave its mark on the political scene, which should facilitate the government formation.”

The sources said: “The main Lebanese political players were surprised with Aoun’s insistence to acquire 12 ministers, as well as a demand that the Syrian Social National Party and Lebanese Democratic party be granted two ministers.”

This means that the March 8 forces combined, including Hizbullah and AMAL’s shares, would hold 20 ministers, leaving ten to President Michel Suleiman, Prime Minister-designate Najib Miqati, and Jumblat.