BEIRUT: Foreign Minister Adnan Mansour denied Thursday he had deviated from government policy toward the crisis in Syria during a recent meeting of the Arab League and warned that the regional organization’s decision to legalize the arming of Syrian rebels posed a danger to Lebanon.
“I did not give up on Lebanon’s self dissociation policy. I did not take a side with any of those fighting in Syria,” Mansour said at Beirut’s Rafik Hariri International Airport upon his arrival from Cairo, where the Arab League held a meeting a day earlier.
The minister came under fire at home Wednesday after he called on Arab foreign ministers gathered in the Egyptian capital to allow the Syrian government to retake its League seat.
The bulk of the criticism came from the Lebanese opposition, which accused Mansour of straying from the government’s self-avowed policy of disassociating itself from developments in the region, particularly in Syria.
Mansour, whom the March 14 opposition described as “the Charge D’affaires of the Syrian regime in Lebanon” over the affair, admitted that he had written the address that sparked the outcry in Lebanon.
“I prepared my speech at the Arab League by myself and I chose each word I said,” the minister explained at a news conference at the Beirut airport.
He insisted that his request at the League did not deviate from Lebanon’s self dissociation policy, adding that his proposal to reinstate Syria as a member of the top Arab body aimed at facilitating the process of reaching a political solution in Lebanon’s neighbor.
“All I said was that the Arab League should embrace Syria once again to discuss the possibility of reaching a political solution in the war-torn country,” he said.
The foreign minister told The Daily Star that he would be meeting later with President Michel Sleiman and Prime Minister Najib Mikati to brief them on his trip to Egypt.
As well as inviting the Syrian National Coalition to take Damascus’ seat at the League, the Arab body also decided Wednesday to allow member states to arm Syrian rebels caught up in the conflict against President Bashar Assad.
The final statement issued at the end of the ministerial committee in Cairo said officials had “stressed the right of each state according to its wishes to offer all types of self-defense, including military, to support the resilience of the Syrian people and the Free [Syrian] Army.”
Of the 21 member organization, Lebanon, Iraq and Algeria were the only three states to refuse to endorse the section dealing with Syria in the League’s final statement.
Mansour warned Thursday that the decision to allow states the ability to provide Syrian rebels with arms constituted a major threat to Lebanon.
“We should be aware of the seriousness of what will come in the near future as a result of the decision to provide arms to Syria,” he said.
“Syria will become an open [battlefield],” he said.
“How will the weapons enter the country?” Mansour asked, adding: “They will not be carried by flying birds of course but will pass through neighboring countries.”
“How can we immunize the Lebanese borders to that?” he asked.
Responding to his critics, Mansour voiced surprise at what he described as an “intentional and fabricated fuss” which he said had the ultimate objective of targeting the Lebanese government.
“This fabricated fuss over my stance by some Lebanese politicians is unjustified,” he said, adding: “I have been under attack ever since the Cabinet was formed ... Such repeated attacks do not target me personally. These attacks are aimed at the Cabinet through its foreign minister.”
Lebanon’s opposition has repeatedly criticized the foreign minister over his statements and actions regarding the Syria conflict.
Although slammed for his stance in Egypt by the March 14 alliance, the rival March 8 coalition, which enjoys a majority of seats in the Lebanese government, praised Mansour for his position at the League.
Hezbollah MP Mohammad Raad defended Mansour’s comments, describing them as “positive” and reflecting “keenness toward all countries in the Arab region and toward their peoples who are surely affected by the continuing, destructive hemorrhaging that weakens Syria and Arab countries equally.”
“[Mansour’s speech] at the recent meeting of Arab foreign ministers reflects ... the official Lebanese stance that it agreed on in terms of disassociating itself from the Syria crisis,” Raad said, according to a statement from Hezbollah.
MP Salim Salhab, from MP Michel Aoun’s Change and Reform bloc, also praised the foreign minister and slammed Prime Minister Najib Mikati for voicing opposition to Mansour’s stance.
“Mikati should call for a Cabinet session and justify the government’s [opposing] position toward Mansour’s statements,” Salhab told the Kataeb-run Voice of Lebanon radio station.
On Wednesday Mikati said: “Lebanon’s government is still committed to the policy of disassociation from events in Syria. This is the same stance it took when the decision to suspend Syria’s membership was issued by the Arab League.”
MP Michel Moussa, from Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri’s Amal Movement, also hailed Mansour’s stance and said it was in tune with Lebanon’s interests in that it sought to end the violence in Syria.
“Mansour’s position endorses Lebanon’s interests in ending the Syrian crisis through dialogue,” Moussa told Voice of Lebanon radio station.