Lebanon News

Mikati: I want to protect Lebanon

Mikati addresses the Security Council as its chair. (Dalati&Nohra Photo)

UNITED NATIONS: Prime Minister Najib Mikati said Tuesday that while Lebanon will not endorse potential United Nations sanctions against Syria his government will have to respect them, in line with its policy of commitment to international resolutions, if sanctions are adopted.

“We are going to have to apply sanctions against Syria in case they are issued,” Mikati told The Daily Star during a meeting with Lebanese and Arab reporters. “I am not against Syria; I want to protect Lebanon.”

Mikati said when determining Lebanon’s foreign policy, three parameters ought to be taken into consideration: “Lebanese-Syrian ties, Lebanon’s domestic considerations, and [its] ties with the international community.”

Mikati also stressed that Lebanon’s banking sector, which is widely active in Syria, will be safe in the event sanctions are imposed on Lebanon’s eastern neighbor, and dismissed speculation that Lebanese banks were under scrutiny.

He added that he raised the issue of Lebanese banks during talks Monday with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who informed him that “there is nothing against Lebanese banks.”

There are fears that some Lebanese banks will be used to channel funds to the Syrian government in the event sanctions are imposed on Damascus but Mikati said he would hold talks with Central Bank Governor Riad Salameh and the Association of Lebanese Banks to discuss necessary measures.

“Lebanese banks are the backbone of the Lebanese economy and the Lebanese government is keen on preserving this sector and maintaining its clean record,” he added. “We are adopting the necessary measures and I believe that none of the Lebanese banks will act against the international community’s will.”

Mikati reiterated that Lebanon “cannot afford” rivalry with any country, except Israel, adding that his talks in New York had bolstered Lebanon’s role on the international scene.

“In light of the turmoil in the region, we have no choice but to be neutral,” he said. “We shouldn’t meddle in the [domestic] affairs of others so that they don’t meddle in our own affairs.”

Mikati’s third day in New York was the busiest of his stay in the United States, as he held talks with Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, Jordanian Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh, and the foreign minister of the United Arab Emirates, Sheikh Abdullah Bin Zayed al-Nahayan.

Mikati also held a large-scale meeting with Arab ambassadors to the U.N.

A source close to the Lebanese delegation to New York told The Daily Star that the Special Tribunal for Lebanon, as well as international resolutions, were the focus of Mikati’s meetings.

A statement issued by Mikati’s media office quoted Ban as saying the U.N. was “comfortable” with the cooperation between the Lebanese Army and the U.N. Interim Force in Lebanon.

“We are also interested [in seeing] the Lebanese government ensure the necessary funds for the STL, and devote attention to Palestinian camps and commit to the rebuilding of the Nahr al-Bared camp,” Ban was quoted as saying.Earlier Tuesday, Mikati told the U.N. Security Council that Lebanon backed Palestine’s bid for statehood recognition and was committed to the unity of Syria and the safety of its people in light of the unrest there.

“Palestine meets all the requirements of a viable state according to international law but it’s under occupation,” Mikati said. “Therefore, it is our duty to support the efforts of the Palestinian state and people to end the occupation, establish independence and ensure that its people return home.”

Three days before Lebanon’s term as the head of the Security Council for the month of September comes to an end, Mikati chaired a session on the Middle East and delivered a comprehensive speech to a packed audience.

Mikati renewed Beirut’s commitment to the Arab Peace initiative of 2002, saying an Israeli withdrawal from the occupied Golan Heights in Syria was imperative to brokering peace in the Middle East.

“Also,” he added, “in light of the events Syria is witnessing Lebanon cannot but express support for Syria’s unity and the safety of its people.”

Touching on domestic issues, Mikati said his government was committed to implementing all international resolutions including Resolution 1757 and agreements related to the STL, which is probing the 2005 killing of statesman Rafik Hariri.

There are fears that Mikati’s Hezbollah-dominated Cabinet will block funding for the STL, which has indicted four members of the resistance group.

He also urged the international community to pressure Israel to end its violations of Resolution 1701, which put an end to the 2006 summer war with Israel, and move from a cessation of hostilities to a complete cease-fire.

The prime minister defended Lebanon’s right to exploit its offshore oil and gas resources and protect its Exclusive Economic Zone, and saluted the role of the UNIFIL in preserving peace and stability in south Lebanon.

Asked how he would describe his U.N visit, he replied: “My visit was excellent and I think it shows on my face.”

To a query about possible varying views among ministries on his statements, Mikati said. “I don’t think any ministers in Cabinet have a different reasoning.”

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on September 28, 2011, on page 1.




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