BEIRUT: Prime Minister Najib Mikati is scheduled for a one-day official visit to Turkey Wednesday, where economic and political issues – including that of the Lebanese hostages in Syria – will top the agenda of talks with his Turkish counterpart.
Interior Minister Marwan Charbel, Public Works and Transport Minister Ghazi Aridi and Economy Minister Nicolas Nahhas will accompany Mikati on the trip.
Sources told The Daily Star that Mikati and Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan plan to discuss the Lebanese pilgrims who are still being held hostage by Syrian rebels, despite Turkey’s insistence that it is doing all it can to facilitate their release.
Speaking after a meeting with Foreign Minister Adnan Mansour Monday, Turkish Ambassador to Lebanon Inan Ozyildiz said that he had no new information on the issue of the hostages, but that Erdogan would brief Mikati about the latest developments.
“Turkey is continuing to play a role in this issue and we are still exerting efforts to help release the Lebanese kidnapped, and we would be pleased if other countries would contribute to these efforts,” the ambassador said.
Asked whether Turkey is coordinating with Qatar on the topic, he said “I’m sure that there are contacts with authorities in Qatar on this issue.”
Ozyildiz said he could not confirm media reports that the rebel leader holding the captives, Abu Ibrahim, is being treated in a Turkish hospital. “We have read the reports but have received no confirmation,” he said, adding that Turkey does not know the whereabouts of Abu Ibrahim.
The envoy added that he expected Mikati and Erdogan to discuss the issue of Syrian refugees in Lebanon, and said that Turkey will not close its borders with Syria to refugees. “We will not shut our borders in their faces; this is a humanitarian issue.”
Separately, Mikati met with Speaker Nabih Berri Sunday, and Grand Serail sources said Mikati left the talks with the impression that Berri is eager to reach a settlement on an electoral law so it can be used in time for June elections.
The sources added that Berri has told various influential politicians that he will only support a law that is at least partially based on proportional representation, but he is open to listening to various suggestions.
For his part, Mikati is convinced of the superiority of the Cabinet’s draft law and plans to defend it, the sources said. He would not necessarily be opposed to amendments to the draft, however.
In addition, the sources said Mikati has confirmed his opposition to the Orthodox Gathering’s draft law, as he believes it will harm both coexistence and stability in Lebanon. The prime minister will vote against the law if it is put to a vote in Parliament.
As for Mikati’s recent trip to Saudi Arabia, ministerial sources familiar with the visit said the prime minister and Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal covered a wide range of topics including the circumstances that led to Mikati’s Cabinet formation, his decision to accept the position, the Cabinet’s performance and its policy of dissociation from the events in Syria.
According to the sources, the discussions between the two countries were frank, and Saudi officials made no particular demands on Mikati as he has not opposed their policies.
Saudi Arabian officials are said to have understood the dissociation policy, and the sources said the meetings were tantamount to opening a new page between Saudi Arabia and Mikati’s government.