BEIRUT: National unity remains an overriding priority for Lebanon’s foreign policy, Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil said Thursday as he clarified that Lebanon’s participation was “optional” in a military Arab force as the fight against the Houthis continues in Yemen.
“The top foreign policy priority for Lebanon is national unity,” Bassil told a news conference at the foreign ministry headquarters. “National unity is much more important than Arab solidarity.”
Arab leaders agreed Sunday on the formation of a unified military force to counter growing security threats from Yemen to Libya, and as regional heavyweights Saudi Arabia and Iran engage in sectarian proxy wars.
The resolution, announced Sunday at the end of a two-day Arab summit in Egypt, agreed to defeat the Iranian-backed Houthis in Yemen and to create a joint Arab defense force at the request of any Arab nation facing a national security threat. The force would also be used to combat terrorist groups. Lebanon was among the 22 nations present at the Arab summit.
The mechanism and logistics of the Arab force would be worked out by a high-level panel under the supervision of Arab chiefs of staff, Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi said.
Hezbollah has criticized Prime Minister Tammam Salam for offering support to the creation of a joint Arab force.
But Bassil made sure to clarify Lebanon’s position after Salam’s remarks sparked uproar across the country.
“It’s natural to dispatch an Arab force to fight terrorism,” he said. “However, it’s a tentative decision ... and participation is optional.”
Bassil underscored Lebanon’s “one-standard foreign policy, which is to preserve national unity.”
He also emphasized Lebanon’s position against voting in the U.N. Security Council on issues dealing with Syria or Hezbollah.