BEIRUT: President Michel Sleiman will skip an Arab League summit in Libya later this month because of a diplomatic spat over the disappearance of an influential Lebanese cleric 32 years ago, a government official said Friday.
“President Sleiman will not take part in the summit in Libya based on a request by Speaker of Parliament Nabih Berri,” Agence France Presse quoted the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, as saying.
The official said it remained to be seen who would represent Lebanon at the Arab League summit, which is scheduled from March 27-28. “With two weeks left before the summit, Lebanon has yet to receive an official invitation,” they said.
Iranian-born Lebanese Imam Moussa al-Sadr, together with his two companions Abbas Badreddine and Mohammad Yaqoub, disappeared during an official trip to Libya in 1978.
The Lebanese widely blame Libyan leader Moamar Gadhafi for ordering the men’s disappearance, but Tripoli denies the allegations. Libya has repeatedly claimed Sadr, who was the spiritual and political leader of the Movement of the Deprived in Lebanon (Amal), had already left for Italy before going missing.
Rome has always maintained Sadr never arrived there, though in 2004 the Italian authorities returned a passport found in Italy belonging to the Shiite cleric.
Sadr’s disappearance remains a serious point of diplomatic friction between Libya and Lebanon. Gadhafi, who has not visited Beirut since Sadr vanished, was indicted by the Lebanese authorities along with six other Libyans in August 2008 for the imam’s disappearance.
Berri, who has called for a boycott of the summit since February, told Hizbullah’s Al- Manar television on Friday that Lebanese participation would be an “unacceptable” affront on the country’s dignity.
Criticizing the approval of Arab states to host the summit in Libya for the first time ever, Berri also said Lebanese participation would “jeopardize the current political status quo” and go against the verdicts indicting Gadhafi in Sadr’s disappearance. He asked: “Wouldn’t participation represent a challenge against the judiciary?”
While several Shiite religious and political figures agree with Berri’s demand for a boycott of the summit, Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s Future Movement party has said it supports a Lebanese presence, arguing that any disintegration in regional politics would have enormous repercussions at home.
Arab League Secretary General Amr Moussa has reportedly been alerted to the fact Libya has not yet sent Lebanon an invitation to the summit, a Lebanese unidentified diplomatic source told the pan-Arab Ash-Sharq al-Awsat newspaper on Saturday. Moussa warned Libyan officials it was be a “mistake” to fail to invite Lebanon and that the snub could hurt Lebanon and the Arab League, the source added.
Moussa, who has not been asked to deliver an invitation to Lebanon, recently agreed with Lebanese officials it was up to them to decide on the level of participation at the summit.
On Saturday, Liberation and Development MP Ali Bazzi said he was “surprised” by Moussa’s statements. “Sometimes he approaches the Lebanese like a mentor, other times he wishes Libya would extend an invitation to Lebanon to attend the Arab summit,” he said without elaborating. Moussa is expected to visit Lebanon on Thursday.