BEIRUT: Lebanon will assume its role as the head of the Arab League next month, sources close to Prime Minister Najib Mikati told The Daily Star Tuesday, playing down reports that the country was subject to pressure to relinquish the chairmanship to Libya.
As-Safir paper quoted sources close to President Michel Sleiman as saying Monday there were divisions within the Lebanese government on whether Lebanon should assume this role.
The paper also quoted a minister close to the Progressive Socialist Party leader as saying that Sleiman, Mikati, and PSP head Walid Jumblatt were leaning toward relinquishing the chairmanship in line with Lebanon’s policy of disassociation toward events in Syria.
The sources close to Mikati did not comment on As-Safir’s report, but said the idea to forego its turn in the rotation never occurred to the Lebanese government and added that Foreign Minister Adnan Mansour is heading to Cairo to chair Arab League ministerial meetings.
Sources close to Speaker Nabih Berri told The Daily Star the speaker has not heard any reservations from Sleiman or Mikati regarding Lebanon’s chairmanship of the Arab League.
“I do not see any reason why the president and the prime minister would object to something that is in the interest of Lebanon,” the source said.
“Lebanon decided earlier not to take sides as far as the Syrian crisis is concerned ... I do not see this policy as an obstacle to chairing Arab League meetings. On the contrary, I see it as an advantage that the Arab League should benefit from ... It is always good to have an impartial chairmanship that keeps the same distance from all concerned parties,” the source added.
“Lebanon successfully chaired Security Council meetings while applying the same policy. The same should apply to the Arab League.
“Besides that, there are many issues that Lebanon can raise as the head of the Arab League, such as Israel’s continuous violations of (U.N. Security Council) Resolution 1701 and the situation in the Palestinian territories,” the source noted.
“I can also assure you that MP Jumblatt’s position on this entire issue is identical to that of Speaker Berri.”
Ministerial sources told The Daily Star that the idea of relinquishing the chairmanship of the Arab League was proposed by a foreign “senior official” but was not welcomed by the Lebanese government, which believes such a move could deepen political divisions in the country.
The March 14 coalition appeared set to escalate its response to the discovery of a terrorist plot allegedly driven by the Syrian regime, with the Future Movement demanding the expulsion of Syria’s ambassador to Lebanon and March 14 youth groups calling for demonstrations.
The youth movement will hold a march Wednesday in protest against what it sees as the government’s failure to address security issues.
The march will begin at St. Joseph University’s Mathaf Campus in Beirut and head toward the Foreign Ministry in Ashrafieh.
“We decided to play a role which is supposed to be the duty of the Cabinet and Foreign Affairs Ministry, simply because the Cabinet is not carrying out its responsibilities,” Simon Dergham, the head of the students’ association in the National Liberal Party and a March 14 activist, told The Daily Star.
According to Dergham, the rally is a protest against the security situation in Lebanon, which has spiraled out of control, and will include a call for the swift prosecution of former Minister Michel Samaha, who has been charged with planning terrorist attacks in Lebanon.
“We will also call on all lawmakers, including the March 14 MPs, to go to the Parliament and cancel the Lebanese-Syrian treaty of cooperation signed on May 20, 1991,” Dergham said, explaining that such a step is necessary in the face of continued Syrian violations of Lebanon’s sovereignty.
The Progressive Socialist Party youth movement intends to hold a similar gathering Friday.
Kataeb MP Sami Gemayel said his party will be taking part in the rally.
“We were among the first to call for such a rally and Kataeb students will participate effectively tomorrow,” he said.
“Such a rally is aimed at preserving the dignity of the Lebanese state when it comes to its relations with other countries,” he added.
Kataeb’s youth department held a similar rally last week.
Future Movement MP Jean Ogassapian emphasized the importance of such a rally, especially in light of the Cabinet’s neglect in addressing Samaha’s case.
“The government is trying to avoid taking the required measures in Samaha’s case, and this is unacceptable,” Ogassapian told The Daily Star, indicating that he is likely to take part in the March 14 youth rally.
The Future Movement parliamentary bloc called on the government Tuesday to expel Syria’s ambassador to Lebanon, suspend all security treaties with Damascus and cancel the Lebanese-Syrian Higher Council – a body formed in the early 1990s to address bilateral issues between the two neighbors.
The bloc also urged the government to file a complaint against Syria to the Arab League and the U.N. Security Council.
Addressing the situation in Tripoli, which witnessed deadly clashes between supporters and opponents of the Syrian regime last week, the Future bloc praised security forces for their efforts to restore order to the northern coastal city.
The bloc said, however, that a “security approach” on its own was not enough to tackle the city’s problems, adding that a political solution that leads to reconciliation between the warring parties was urgently needed.