Lebanon News

Lebanon keen on best of ties with Arabs: Sleiman

President Michel Sleiman, center, is flanked by Prime Minister Najib Mikati and Deputy Prime Minister Samir Moqbel, during a Cabinet meeting at Baabda Palace on Wednesday, Feb. 20, 2012. (The Daily Star/Mahmoud Kheir)

BEIRUT: President Michel Sleiman said during a Cabinet meeting Wednesday that Lebanon is committed to maintaining the best of relations with Arab states, in an apparent bid to repair ties with Gulf states soured over recent remarks by Free Patriotic Movement MP Michel Aoun.

Cabinet also agreed that the defense or interior minister file a written request to the prime minister for telecoms data between Jan. 15 and May 31. They also asked Telecoms Minister Nicolas Sehnaoui to take immediate measures that grant security agencies access to telecoms data.

“We are committed to having the best of relations between Lebanon and Arab states,” Sleiman told ministers during the Cabinet session which was held at the Presidential Palace.

He also called for a commitment to the “Baabda Declaration,” a deal between rival March 8 and March 14 leaders in 2012 that called for “keeping Lebanon away from the policy of regional and international conflicts and sparing it the negative repercussions of regional tensions and crises.”

Without naming Aoun, Sleiman said statements by Lebanese politicians on events in Bahrain did not reflect the government's policy.

“We hold onto the best of ties with Bahrain and its government,” Sleiman said, adding: “The opinions of Lebanese politicians do not reflect those of the [Lebanese] Cabinet.”

In an interview on an Iranian television station last week, Aoun blasted the international community and the Arab League for its lack of support to Bahraini protesters, calling their predicament an “injustice.”

Following complaints by Gulf states on his remarks, Prime Minister Mikati disavowed Aoun’s stance.

In a telephone call to his Bahraini counterpart over the weekend, Mikati said Lebanon would not interfere in the Gulf country’s internal affairs and said the March 8 leaders’ remarks did not reflect that of the government.

Aoun defended his remarks on Bahrain Tuesday, saying they were only meant as advice.

Aoun’s comments on Bahrain and the strained ties with Gulf countries that ensued had been expected to top the Cabinet’s meeting.

Criticism of the FPM leader’s remarks continued Wednesday.

Progressive Socialist Party head MP Walid Jumblatt described them as unacceptable.

“The teenage behavior of some political parties in Lebanon is no longer acceptable which contributed to the ‘Wars of liberation and elimination,’” said Jumblatt, without naming the March 8 leader.

“I hope provocative words are removed from their dictionaries because their sole role is to fuel political tensions and undermine the achievements of Lebanese both in and outside of Lebanon,” he added.

The subject of recent insulting caricatures of the Saudi monarch was also brought in government.

Sleiman denounced the caricatures and tasked Justice Minister Shakib Qortbawi with following up on the case.

“Insulting the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah Bin Abdul Aziz is totally unacceptable,” the president said.

Jumblatt, who recently visited Saudi Arabia, also blasted the unflattering depictions of the Saudi leader.

“The pictures that spread in some areas insulting King Abdullah Bin Abdel Aziz overlook the great support that Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states offered Lebanon during the darkest hours of its Civil War, starting with the Taif Accord which ended the long Lebanese crisis and paved the way for a new phase of political stability,” he said in a statement.

He also highlighted the Saudi support to the Lebanese currency and its contribution to the country’s reconstruction following the July-August war of 2006.

Jumblatt also said Lebanon appreciated Gulf States for hosting Lebanese expatriates.

The early morning kidnapping of a 12-year-old schoolboy in Beirut was also the catalyst for discussions in Cabinet on the controversial subject of telecoms data that security agencies insist they need for their crime probes.

“After Mikati contacted the security forces to follow up on the case of the kidnapped boy, they asked him about developments on the data they had requested,” Information Minister Walid Daouk, who spoke to reporters following the Cabinet meeting, said.

Mohammad Nibal Awada was kidnapped at gunpoint outside his home in Beirut while he was waiting for a bus to pick him up to go to school, security sources told The Daily Star.

After talks that lasted some three hours, the Cabinet also agreed that the defense or interior minister file a written request to the prime minister for telecoms data between Jan. 15 and May 31.

They also asked Sehnaoui with taking immediate measures that grant security agencies access to telecoms data.

Cabinet last week put off talks on the telecoms data after a row over the issue erupted between Mikati and Aoun, who is represented in the government by 10 ministers, including Sehnaoui.

Aoun claimed Sehnaoui had the prerogatives over the transfer of telecoms data, a claim that the prime minster swiftly denied.





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