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 said, referring to Hariri's coalition.
The movement had earlier demanded Mikati maintain Lebanon's ties to UN-backed Special Tribunal for Lebanon, investigating the 2005 killing of Hariri's father, Sunni Muslim statesman Rafiq al-Hariri, in an attempt to put pressure on Mikati from his own Sunni Muslim sect which sees the tribunal as a central political cause.
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.
Hezbollah has denied involvement in the assassination of Rafiq 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 given Mikati a list of demands but did not say whether it would take part if the demands were met.
It 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", Siniora said.
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.
SYRIA CALLS FOR UNITY GOVERNMENT
Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem said on Thursday he hoped a national unity government would be formed which all Lebanese parties would join.
Britain's Foreign Secretary William Hague, speaking alongside Moualem during a visit to Damascus, called for a government with "broadest possible support" which upholds its obligations to the U.N.-backed tribunal.
In an interview with Reuters on Wednesday, Mikati declined to say whether he believed Lebanon should withdraw judges and funding for the tribunal, as Hezbollah and its allies demanded.
If Hariri's supporters reject his call to join the government, Mikati said he would prefer to form a cabinet of technocrats rather than one which comprised only Hezbollah and its allies. "In this case, I go to technocrat," he said.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said on Tuesday that the emergence of a Hezbollah-controlled government would "clearly have an impact" on US relations with Lebanon.
Asked if Hezbollah, which had two ministers in Hariri's "unity" government, was seeking cabinet positions in his government, Mikati said he expected to hear a formal position from the Shi'ite militant group in Thursday's talks.
"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."