BEIRUT: United States President Barack Obama said Monday weapons transfers to Hezbollah constituted an “unusual and extraordinary” threat to his country’s national security.
In a letter addressed to the speaker of the House of Representatives and the president of the Senate, Obama extended for one additional year a 2007 decision to freeze the assets of individuals whose activities undermine stability in Lebanon.
“Certain ongoing activities, such as continuing arms transfers to Hezbollah that include increasingly sophisticated weapons systems, serve to undermine Lebanese sovereignty, contribute to political and economic instability in Lebanon, and continue to constitute an unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United States,” Obama said in the letter.
“For this reason, I have determined that it is necessary to continue the national emergency with respect to Lebanon,” he added.
Obama’s extension of the U.S. decision, first issued on Aug. 1, 2007, is a routine procedure, carried out every year since then.
The decision which was issued under George W. Bush’s administration took measures against a list of individuals the U.S. said undermine Lebanon’s legitimate and democratically elected government, contribute to the deliberate breakdown in the rule of law in Lebanon and work to reassert Syrian control or contribute to Syrian interference in Lebanon, among other things.
Separately, attempts to lengthen Army commander Gen. Jean Kahwagi’s term hit snags Monday as caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati opposed the extension through a decree as proposed by caretaker Defense Minister Fayez Ghosn. The last-minute hurdles cast doubts on efforts to avoid a leadership vacuum at the military’s top spot.
Ghosn was expected to make a recommendation for the extension of Kahwagi’s term, as well as that of Army Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Walid Salman, during a meeting of the Higher Defense Council chaired by President Michel Sleiman at Baabda Palace Monday.
The recommendation was discussed by Sleiman, Mikati, Ghosn and Kahwagi on the sidelines of the Defense Council’s talks, political sources said.
The meeting reviewed a legal study concerning the extension of Kahwagi’s term prepared by the Defense Ministry’s legal adviser, former minister Naji Bustani.
The study, which won Sleiman’s approval, called for the extension of Kahwagi’s term through a decree to be signed by the defense minister, the president and the caretaker prime minister in order to give a legal and morale boost for the Army commander.
Previous security officials’ term extensions have been done through an administrative decision taken by the defense minister only, as will happen with the chief of staff and as happened with the extension of the Army Intelligence chief’s mandate, the sources said.
But the participants were surprised by the opposition to this procedure from Mikati, who brought with him a presentation indicating that the extension of Kahwagi’s term by a decree was illegal and could be challenged, sources said.
Mikati, according to the sources, said he had no objections to delaying Kahwagi’s retirement, due on Sept. 23, through an administrative measure.
But the Army commander voiced reservations about this administrative measure, which, in his view, is weak and does not achieve the required purpose behind the extension, the sources said.
The rift shelved a final decision on the extension of Kahwagi’s term to a later date before Aug. 8, when the Army chief of staff goes on retirement.Sources at the meeting said that if Kahwagi agreed before the Army Day celebrations on Aug. 1 to delay his retirement through an administrative decision by Ghosn, the latter could sign it at any time before Wednesday.
Ghosn told a local TV station that the decision to delay Kahwagi’s retirement for one year would probably be made Wednesday.
MP Walid Jumblatt wanted the terms of both the Army commander and the chief of staff to be extended simultaneously. If this does not happen, the decision to delay Kahwagi’s retirement will wait until September until an acceptable formula is found either through a draft law in Parliament, a Cabinet decree or even the appointment of a new Army chief if there is a consensus on the name of a certain candidate.
Also Monday, Parliament failed for the third time this month to convene to discuss 45 items on its agenda, including a proposal to extend Kahwagi’s extension, due to a lack of quorum.
Speaker Nabih Berri postponed the session until Aug. 20-21. It was the third postponement this month as a result of a boycott by Mikati and MPs from Michel Aoun’s Free Patriotic Movement, the Future Movement and its March 14 allies.