BEIRUT

Lebanon News

Cabinet braces itself for vote repercussions

The Lebanese Cabinet.

BEIRUT: The government scrambled Tuesday to contain the repercussions of Lebanon’s vote against the Arab League’s decision to isolate Syria as Prime Minister Najib Mikati met with Arab and foreign ambassadors to explain the Lebanese position that has evoked criticism at home and abroad. The Lebanese stance at the Arab League has left its ripples on Mikati’s Cabinet.

The Cabinet, which met under Mikati Tuesday, discussed Lebanon’s position at the Arab League after which the ministers agreed that any decision to be taken by the Cabinet should serve the country’s national interest, acting Information Minister Wael Abu Faour told reporters after the meeting held at the Grand Serail.

“The national interest and civil peace should be the main criteria of any decision that must be taken,” said Abu Faour, who is also the social affairs minister. While Health Minister Ali Hasan Khalil and Hezbollah’s Minister of State for Administrative Reform Mohammad Fneish defended the government’s decision to vote against Syria’s isolation, Abu Faour, who belongs to MP Walid Jumblatt’s National Struggle Front bloc, voiced the bloc’s objections to the vote.

Jumblatt’s three ministers have complained that they and other ministers were not informed of the Lebanese position at the Arab League.

Addressing the Cabinet, Mikati said: “Any stance to be taken by Lebanon is aimed at maintaining its stability and civil peace. Lebanon will continue to interact with its Arab environment and be part of the Arab world.”

He pointed out that Lebanon’s vote against the Arab League’s decision had emanated from “historic and geographic considerations and facts that take into account the Lebanese peculiarity toward which Arab brethren show understanding.” Mikati said Lebanon’s position did not express reservations over the call to halt violence and demand dialogue as the only way to resolve the crisis in Syria, but over the issue of suspending Syria from attending Arab League meetings.

“The Lebanese policy, as the president has affirmed, is against isolation which punishes the people and severs the means of dialogue,” he said.

Meanwhile, the British Ambassador to Lebanon Tom Fletcher voiced his country’s disappointment at the Lebanese position at the Arab League’s meeting, saying Mikati told him that Lebanon came under “unique pressures” over the unrest in Syria.

Fletcher met Mikati at the Grand Serail Tuesday to discuss the prime minister’s visit to London last week and developments of the eight-month popular upheaval that has posed the most serious challenge to Syrian President Bashar Assad’s 11-year rule.

“We discussed follow-up to PM Mikati’s visit to London, including our plans to enhance support for Lebanon’s stability. We also discussed developments in Syria. Britain welcomes the strong action taken by the Arab League, and hopes that it will lead to greater freedom, stability and respect for human rights, as demanded by the Syrian people themselves,” Fletcher said in a statement after the meeting.

“PM Mikati explained to me the unique pressures faced by Lebanon on this issue,” Fletcher said in a clear reference to Lebanon’s vote against the Arab League’s decision to suspend Syria’s participation in the League’s meetings.

“Nevertheless, I underlined our disappointment at Lebanon’s position at the Arab League meeting. In the uncertain period ahead, we must all work for stability and coexistence in Lebanon,” he added, according to the statement released by the British Embassy.

Fletcher said it would have been in Lebanon’s interest to take a neutral stance at the Arab League and separate the country as much as possible from the situation in Syria, the state-run National News Agency reported. He added that he hoped that Lebanese leaders would take a wise position that helps to put them on the correct side of history.

Mikati, whose Cabinet was thrown into disarray over the Lebanese stance at the Arab League, met separately at the Grand Serail Tuesday with the ambassadors of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar and Oman and the charge d’affaires of the United Arab Emirates as part of his meetings with Arab and foreign ambassadors to explain Lebanon’s position on developments in Syria, particularly the Arab League’s latest decision to isolate Syria, NNA reported. Mikati Monday met with the ambassadors of Egypt, Jordan and the European Union.

Both Mikati and President Michel Sleiman have defended Lebanon’s stance at the Arab League, whose foreign ministers decided Saturday to suspend Syria’s participation in meetings and impose political and economic sanctions on Damascus in response to the government’s failure to implement an Arab plan to end the unrest.

However, Sleiman’s and Mikati’s defense of the Lebanese vote drew fire from former Prime Minister Saad Hariri who lashed out at the two, saying their stance put the country on the side of “murder and dictatorship.” March 14 politicians have also slammed the government, mainly Foreign Minister Adnan Mansour, over Lebanon’s position at the Arab League.

Meanwhile, Hariri’s parliamentary Future bloc criticized Lebanon’s position at the Arab League foreign ministers’ meeting, saying it stood against the brotherly Syrian people. “It constituted a dangerous precedent in Lebanon’s position by departing from Arab popular unanimity,” the bloc said in a statement.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on November 16, 2011, on page 1.

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