Hariri ‘will quit if Hezbollah interferes’

Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri greets the audience during a regional banking conference in Beirut recently. (AP)
Updated 27 November 2017
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Hariri ‘will quit if Hezbollah interferes’

BEIRUT: Lebanese President Michel Aoun held consultations on Monday with representatives of political parties in Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s coalition government as he declared that Hezbollah must stop interfering in regional conflicts and accept a neutral policy to bring an end to the political crisis.
According to Reuters, Hariri told French broadcaster CNews that he was ready to stay on as prime minister if Hezbollah accepted to stick by the state policy of staying out of regional conflicts.
The premier, however, said he would resign if Hezbollah did not keep to that, although consultations so far had been positive.
“I think in the interest of Lebanon, Hezbollah is carrying out a positive dialogue. They know we have to remain neutral in the region,” he added in the interview recorded on Monday.
Aoun’s talks on Monday took place after Hariri last Wednesday put off his resignation upon the president’s request to find a way out of the current crisis. Hariri had unexpectedly announced his resignation from Riyadh on Nov. 4, protesting that Iran and Hezbollah had taken hold of Lebanon, and he feared for his life.
The talks concerned the concept of “self-distancing” and how to apply it. Most of those whom Aoun consulted supported activating the Lebanese administration and reaffirming the ministerial statement and the political settlement, which resulted in naming Aoun president and Hariri prime minister until the next parliamentary elections in May. Aoun did not address the issue of Hezbollah’s weapons. 
The ministers and deputies who met with Aoun made statements in the lobby of Baabda Palace to voice their stances. Hezbollah’s allies preferred to discuss “reaffirming the ministerial statement,” which does not include the term “self-distancing.” 
The Hariri government stated in its ministerial statement that it is “committed to what was stated in President Michel Aoun’s presidential speech, when he said that Lebanon, which is moving between the mines, is still free from the fire burning around it in the region because its people’s stances are one and they are holding on to civil peace. 
“Therefore, Lebanon must distance itself from external conflicts while respecting the Charter of the League of Arab States, especially Article 8, and adopting an independent foreign policy based on Lebanon’s supreme interest and its respect for international law in order to protect its peace, stability and unity.”
Finance Minister Ali Hassan Khalil, representative of the Amal Movement, said: “We are committed to the agreed-upon values in the ministerial statement and to our national charter. We are positive that an understanding will be reached to restore work in the Cabinet and spare Lebanon any strike to its political and security stability.” 
Public Works and Transportation Minister Youssef Fenianos, representative of the Marada Movement, said: “We wished for this government to continue. We are fully committed to its ministerial statement, under the umbrella of the Taif Agreement and the National Reconciliation Accord.”
Mohammed Raad, who chairs Hezbollah’s political wing Loyalty to the Resistance Bloc in the Lebanese Parliament, avoided discussing the self-distancing policy. “We discussed protecting Lebanon, guaranteeing the independence of its decisions, and restoring political life back to normal, and all opinions were identical,” he said. “We hope to start putting them into action.”
The head of the Syrian Social Nationalist Party, Hanna Al-Nashif, said: “We must define self-distancing scientifically and legally so that our speech doesn’t target certain countries and to avoid getting Lebanon involved in alliances rejected by all of us. We want Lebanon to be united, protect its security, sovereignty and unity, and embrace all Lebanese people in one strong social fabric.” 
MP Sami Gemayel, leader of the Phalange Party, called for “the complete neutrality of Lebanon, and not the self-distancing policy, which is a broad concept with neither legal nor constitutional bases.” 
He stressed that “neutrality cannot be achieved without sovereignty, and there is no state without sovereignty. We cannot take any step toward building a state unless the state is the master of its decision and the people are the ones deciding their future. Therefore, we believe the main requirement for achieving neutrality is the sovereignty of the state and its exclusive possession of weapons. 
“I am sorry no one is tackling the issue of weapons inside Lebanon,” he added. 
Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea said: “We must do what it takes to keep Lebanon outside the region’s conflicts. This should be seen in our actions and not only our words. Self-distancing means actually walking out of the region’s crises. Each of us can have an opinion, and we will continue to say that the regime in Syria cannot stay; this is our political opinion. 
“In the first stage, the military decision must be made by the state, and at a later stage we will discuss a final solution for Hezbollah’s weapons,” he added.
Progressive Socialist Party leader Walid Jumblatt said it would be wise not to bring up the question of Hezbollah’s weapons in discussions.
“If we brought up this question, we will return to previous rounds of futile talks on this matter, which we held in the days of Berri in 2006 and in the days of President Michel Suleiman,” he explained.
“Let’s stick to discussing self-distancing and how to apply it.”


Iran: US sanctions on Khamenei mean end of diplomacy

Updated 59 min 32 sec ago
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Iran: US sanctions on Khamenei mean end of diplomacy

  • Trump said the sanctions would have been imposed regardless of drone attack
  • Washington has repeatedly imposed sanctions on Tehran since last year

Iran said on Tuesday that a US decision to impose sanctions on the country’s supreme leader and other top officials permanently closed the path to diplomacy between Tehran and Washington.
“Imposing useless sanctions on Iran’s Supreme Leader (Ayatollah Ali Khamenei) and the commander of Iran’s diplomacy (Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif) is the permanent closure of the path of diplomacy,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi said in a tweet.
“Trump’s desperate administration is destroying the established international mechanisms for maintaining world peace and security.”

US President Donald Trump earlier signed an executive order that would impose fresh sanctions on Iran, amid increased tensions between the long-time foes.

Trump initially told reporters the sanctions, which will target Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and his office, were in response to Tehran's downing of a US drone last week. Tehran has said the drone was flying in its airspace, which Washington has denied.

Later, Trump said the sanctions would have been imposed regardless of the incident over the drone.

The US will also blacklist Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and block "billions" more in Iranian assets as part of expanded sanctions, US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said Monday.

Mnuchin told reporters Zarif would be added to an economic sanctions list "later this week," adding that eight top military commanders from Iran's Revolutionary Guards have now also been blacklisted.

The US has also blamed Iran for attacks earlier this month on two oil tankers at the entrance of the Gulf of Oman. Iran, in turn, has denied that it is to blame.

Washington has repeatedly imposed sanctions on Tehran since last year, when the US withdrew from the 2015 Iran nuclear deal to curb Iran's nuclear program in exchange for easing of sanctions. Trump’s administration has said the deal struck under his predecessor President Barack Obama did not do enough.

Trump has said he would be open to talks with Iranian leaders, but Tehran has rejected such an offer unless Washington drops the sanctions.

The Trump administration wants to force Tehran to open talks on its nuclear and missile programmes and its activities in the region.

The US also accuses Iran of encouraging allies in Yemen to attack Saudi targets. In a joint statement on Monday, the US, Saudi Arabia, the UAE and UK expressed concern over Middle East tensions and the dangers posed by Iranian "destabilizing activity" to peace and security in Yemen and the region.