BEIRUT: Former Prime Minister Fouad Siniora blasted Adnan Mansour Friday for demanding Syria’s reinstatement at the Arab League, saying the foreign minister’s stance was unconstitutional and contradicted the government’s disassociation policy on the developments of the crisis in Syria.
The mounting backlash over Mansour’s remarks comes amid a warning by Arab Gulf countries that Lebanon is not abiding by its disassociation policy on the 2-year-old conflict in Syria.
“I am very surprised at the stance taken by the foreign minister at the Arab League Council’s meetings in Cairo by demanding that Syria’s seat at the Arab League be restored to the current regime, without paying heed to the opinion of the president and the prime minister in an entirely unconstitutional manner, especially with regard to expressing the Lebanese state’s foreign policy,” Siniora said in a statement.
“This stance constitutes a flagrant violation of the Lebanese government’s declared policy, particularly concerning the disassociation policy the government has adopted on the situation in Syria, in addition to being a clear violation of the Baabda Declaration,” the head of the parliamentary Future bloc added.
The Baabda Declaration, agreed by rival political leaders during a National Dialogue session in 2011, calls for Lebanon to distance itself from regional and international conflicts. President Michel Sleiman has repeatedly urged Lebanese politicians to commit to the principles of the Baabda Declaration and avoid meddling in the internal affairs of Arab countries.
Siniora warned that failure to abide by the disassociation policy could harm the interests of thousands of Lebanese working in Gulf countries.
Taking an indirect swipe at Hezbollah and the Amal Movement with whom Mansour is affiliated, Siniora said:
“Lebanon had enough reverberations that affect it every day as a result of practices that pay no heed to the interests of Lebanon and the Lebanese. It would have been better for the parties that had asked the minister to behave in this way to be careful because Lebanon’s relations with Arab states are going through a sensitive stage due to the policies and attitudes of these parties.”
Siniora’s remarks followed his visit this week to Qatar, where he had talks with the emir, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, focusing on the Syria crisis.
Lebanon is sharply split over the crisis in Syria. Hezbollah, Amal and their March 8 allies support President Bashar Assad, while the opposition March 14 coalition strongly backs the armed rebellion aimed at toppling the Assad regime.
Mansour has been at the center of a heated debate since he called for the Syrian government to be allowed to retake its League seat during a meeting of the Arab foreign ministers in Cairo Wednesday. The Arab League has suspended Syria’s membership in protest at the government’s violent crackdown on opposition groups seeking to oust the Assad regime.
Mansour has come under fire from opposition March 14 parties, which also accused him of departing from the government’s self-avowed policy of disassociating itself from developments in Syria.
Mansour defended his stance Thursday and insisted he did not deviate from the government’s disassociation policy, adding that his proposal was aimed at facilitating the process of reaching a political solution in Syria.
Responding to Siniora’s accusations Friday, Mansour asked: “What did I violate the Constitution with?”
Mansour also denied reports that Prime Minister Najib Mikati had sent him a letter complaining about his stance. But a source close to Mikati confirmed the prime minister did send a letter to Mansour concerning his declaration at the Arab League meeting.
“The letter called for commitment to the [government’s] disassociation policy and its decisions,” the source told The Daily Star. The source said that Mikati threatened to disclose details of the letter if Mansour stuck to his denial.
Siniora rejected Mansour’s argument that he expressed his own opinion at the Arab League meeting. “It is not permissible at all for the foreign minister to express his personal opinions at an Arab or international forum because he is representing the government’s opinion and policy in these forums,” he said.
“The foreign minister’s behavior puts at stake the minister’s respect of the rules of the Lebanese Constitution and the Cabinet’s powers, especially since the Constitution has vested the prime minister with expressing the Cabinet’s policy,” Siniora added.
March 14 officials have voiced concern that recent criticisms of Gulf countries by some March 8 officials would endanger the hundreds of thousands of Lebanese citizens that are working in the region.
The six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council, which comprises Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Oman, Qatar and Bahrain, has warned that Lebanon was failing at its disassociation policy.
In a letter given to Sleiman Tuesday by GCC Secretary-General Abdel Latif bin Rashid al-Zayani, “the GCC voiced its extreme concern [over Lebanon] not committing to the Baabda Declaration and the policy of disassociation.”
“The council looks to [Lebanon] to abide by the policy in words and actions in order to prevent placing Lebanon’s security and stability at risk or affecting the interests of its people and their security,” the letter said.
Seeking to contain the damage caused by Mansour’s stance, Mikati said the government was committed to the disassociation policy on Syria. “This is the same stance it took when the decision to suspend Syria’s membership was issued by the Arab League,” he said.
Future MP Nuhad Mashnouq also warned of the damage that might hit Lebanese working in Gulf states as a result of not only Mansour’s stances, but also Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah’s speeches on the Syrian crisis and remarks by Free Patriotic Movement MP Michel Aoun on the protests in Bahrain.
“The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is the crown of our stability, the UAE is a reservoir of good, and Bahrain is the symbol of our dignity,” Mashnouq told a political seminar organized by the Future Movement in Sidon.
He dismissed the government’s disassociation policy as “a lie,” saying this policy was designed to support “a criminal and killer regime in Syria.”
Lebanese Forces MP Elie Keyrouz called for Mansour’s dismissal for violating the government’s disassociation policy on the Syrian crisis.
“The foreign minister’s stance contradicts the opinion of at least half of the Lebanese people and jeopardizes the interests of Lebanon and its Arab and international relations. It also threatens the interests of Lebanese expatriates living and working in Arab Gulf states,” Keyrouz said in a statement.
“Therefore, I call upon the president and prime minister to take the right decision against the minister in accordance with Article 65 of the Constitution, with regard to dismissing the concerned minister from office in order to avoid continuous damage to the interests of the Lebanese people,” he added.