BEIRUT: Prime Minister Najib Mikati said after talks in London with British Prime Minister David Cameron that he will put the divisive issue of funding a U.N.-backed court to a vote in the Cabinet, a move that is likely to result in blocking the payment of Lebanon’s share to the court by Hezbollah and its March 8 allies.
Lebanon’s commitment to U.N. resolutions, including Resolution 1757 which established the Special Tribunal for Lebanon, and the current popular upheavals in the Arab world, including the unrest in Syria, were among topics discussed by Mikati during his meeting with Cameron Monday night.
Speaking to reporters after the meeting, Mikati stressed the significance of protecting the current stability in Lebanon and the country’s respect of U.N. resolutions, particularly Resolution 1701, which ended the 2006 Israeli war on Lebanon. He said that funding the STL was one of three pillars of Lebanon’s stability.
“The issue of funding the Special Tribunal for Lebanon will be raised in the Cabinet in order to take the appropriate decision,” Mikati said, according to a statement released by his media office Tuesday.
Mikati, on his first official visit to Britain as prime minister since he formed his Cabinet in June, said all the parties in Lebanon recognized the dangers facing the country should it fail to pay its more than $30 million share toward the STL’s annual budget.
“Everyone knows the situation in Lebanon. The issue of funding will be put to discussion at a specific time in constitutional institutions,” Mikati said. “I don’t think that any party in Lebanon does not care about stability or does not recognize the dangers that arise from non-compliance with international resolutions,” he added.
Asked if the STL’s funding was discussed with Cameron, Mikati said, “We discussed international resolutions in general. Lebanon is committed to respecting international resolutions in line with the [government’s] policy statement.”Mikati’s remarks came apparently in response to Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah who said last month that his party is against the STL’s funding and called for a vote within the Cabinet if no agreement was reached among the ministers on the contentious issue.
Since Hezbollah and its March 8 allies have a majority in Mikati’s 30-man Cabinet and can block any decision, Nasrallah’s declaration effectively dashes any hope for the government to approve the payment of Lebanon’s share to the STL’s funding.
Cameron said the United Kingdom supported Lebanon’s sovereignty, stability and independence, but stressed the significance of full implementation of Resolution 1701 and Lebanon’s compliance with its commitments toward the STL.
The STL’s funding is emerging as a major point of contention within the Cabinet and also between the Hezbollah-led March 8 alliance and the opposition March 14 coalition. The STL has indicted four Hezbollah members in the 2005 assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri and demanded their arrests. However, Nasrallah has rejected the indictment, vowing never to turn over the four suspects.
Mikati is coming under heavy pressure from the March 14 parties and international powers to honor Lebanon’s commitments to U.N. resolutions, including the STL and its funding. The U.S has warned Lebanon it could face “serious consequences” should it fail to pay its dues to the STL.
Mikati said he discussed with Cameron the basic factors of Lebanon’s stability. “I stressed that stability is the government’s main goal and that we are trying to consolidate it with all strength,” he said.
Mikati dismissed reports that Lebanon was heading to instability. “Anyone who is betting on a deterioration of the situation will be wrong in his wager because all the Lebanese care for the security situation and stability,” he said.
Earlier Monday, Mikati told Lebanese journalists accompanying him on his visit that Lebanon’s stability was based on three pillars: Maintaining a cease-fire in south Lebanon and adhering to Resolution 1701; full cooperation with international resolutions, including the STL and its funding; and the situation in Syria.
Mikati said once the issue of paying Lebanon’s share to the STL has been settled, the government can move ahead with tackling the other financial, economic and social problems.
During his meeting with Cameron, Mikati said he requested British assistance to the Lebanese Army. “I have provided the British prime minister with a list of some of the needs of the Lebanese Army and Internal Security Forces … I have also provided him with a list of civilian needs,” Mikati said.
Explaining the nature of Lebanese-Syrian relations, Mikati reiterated Lebanon’s position “to dissociate itself from the events in Syria.”
Asked whether his visit to Britain would help break Lebanon’s isolation, Mikati said, “No one can isolate Lebanon. The issue does not have to do with me personally but with Lebanon. Lebanon’s prime minister is welcome in all capitals and countries.”
Meanwhile, Minister of Youth and Sports Faisal Karami predicted that the government will eventually reach “a consensus” to pay Lebanon’s share to the STL. Speaking to supporters at his residence in Tripoli Tuesday, Karami slammed the STL as a “politicized” court. “The tribunal is targeting civil peace and exposing Lebanon to danger,” he said.
Lebanese Forces MP Antoine Zahra said if the STL’s funding is put to a vote in Parliament, the government will collapse. He accused Mikati of counting on “procrastination” over the STL’s funding.
“The funding issue is a routine administrative procedure that does not need a Cabinet decision,” Zahra told the Future News television. “The issue of the STL’s funding should not be discussed in the Cabinet because the latter does not discuss binding duties. The talk about putting the tribunal’s funding [to a vote] in Parliament is meaningless. The government will collapse if it [funding] is put [to a vote].”