Lebanon boycotts talks on Iranian meddling

Lebanese Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil, right, speaks with his Iranian counterpart Mohammad Javad Zarif, in Beirut. (AP)
Updated 12 February 2019
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Lebanon boycotts talks on Iranian meddling

  • Conference will tackle extremism, missile programs, proxy groups

BEIRUT: Lebanon will refuse to attend a Middle East security conference expected to focus on countering Iran’s malign role in the region, Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil said on Monday.

The ministerial talks in Poland begin on Wednesday, jointly hosted by the US and attended by about 80 countries.

The US State Department says the Warsaw conference will address issues such as terrorism, extremism, missile development, maritime trade and security, and threats posed by proxy groups across the region.

Bassil announced Lebanon’s boycott during a visit to Beirut by Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif. 

“Lebanon will not attend the conference in Warsaw because of Israel’s participation and because Lebanon has adopted a policy of disassociation,” he said.

Zarif welcomed the Lebanese decision, and repeated earlier offers of economic and military assistance. 

“Iran is always fully ready to cooperate with Lebanon in all vital and available fields because … this would serve the national interest of the two countries and would not negatively impact any of the parties.” 

Bassil said there was “no embarrassment in any economic cooperation with Iran as long as it is within frameworks that protect Lebanon,” a reference to US economic sanctions on Iran. 

Meanwhile, the two-day conference in Warsaw is also expected to yield an early look at US President Donald Trump’s long-awaited Middle East peace plan.

In addition to Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, the US will be represented in Poland by presidential adviser Jared Kushner, a key driver of the Trump proposals.

Palestinian leaders, suspecting a betrayal, have turned down a US invitation to the talks and called for a boycott by Arab states. 

The leading Palestinian diplomat Saeb Erekat said the Warsaw conference was “an attempt to bypass the Arab Peace Initiative and destroy the Paestinian project.” 

The Palestinians had “not mandated anyone to speak on behalf of Palestine,” he said.

The Palestinian Authority has refused to deal with the Trump administration since December 2017. It believes the aim of the Warsaw conference is to normalize relations between Israel and some Arab countries. 

Normalization is also an element of the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative, but only after Israel returns to its pre-1967 borders.


Erdogan’s comments on Christchurch mosques shootings dismissed as not representative of Muslims

Updated 4 min 31 sec ago
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Erdogan’s comments on Christchurch mosques shootings dismissed as not representative of Muslims

  • Turkish president has threatened to "send home in coffins" visitors from Australia, New Zealand
  • Aussie and NZ leaders want Turkey to explain the "vile" and "offensive" remarks

JEDDAH: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was condemned on Wednesday for “vile, offensive and reckless” comments after last week’s Christchurch mosque terrorist attacks.

Australia summoned the Turkish ambassador in Canberra to explain the remarks, and New Zealand dispatched its foreign minister to Ankara to “set the record straight, face to face.”

Brenton Tarrant, 28, an Australian white supremacist, was charged with murder on Saturday after he shot dead 50 people during Friday prayers at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand.

Erdogan, in election campaign rallies for his AK Party, urged New Zealand to restore the death penalty and said Turkey would make the killer pay if New Zealand did not.

He said anti-Muslim Australians who came to Turkey would be “sent back in coffins, like their grandfathers at Gallipoli,” and he accused Australian and New Zealand forces of invading Turkey during the First World War “because it is Muslim land.”

In fact, the Gallipoli peninsula campaign in 1915 was an attempt by British colonial forces to relieve their Russian allies. The attack was a military disaster, and more than 11,000 Australian and New Zealand forces were killed. Thousands of people from both countries travel each year to Turkey for war memorial services, and the anniversary is marked on Anzac Day every April 25.

“Remarks have been made by the Turkish President Erdogan that I consider highly offensive to Australians and highly reckless in this very sensitive environment,” Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said after summoning the Turkish ambassador and dismissing the “excuses” offered.

“I am expecting, and I have asked, for these comments to be clarified, to be withdrawn.” Morrison described claims about Australia and New Zealand’s response to the white supremacist attack as “vile.” He accused Erdogan of betraying the promise of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk to forge peace between the two countries.

A memorial at Gallipoli carries Ataturk’s words: “There is no difference between the Johnnies and the Mehmets ... after having lost their lives on this land they have become our sons as well.”

“Ataturk sought to transform his country into a modern nation and an embracing nation, and I think these comments are at odds with that spirit,” Morrison said.

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said her deputy, Foreign Minister Winston Peters, would travel to Turkey to seek clarification of Erdogan’s comments. “He is going there to set the record straight, face-to-face,” she said.

Dr. Hamdan Al-Shehri, an international affairs scholar in Riyadh, said Erdogan’s comments should not be taken as representative of Muslims.“ He is a propagandist and an unpredictable politician,” he told Arab News. “He keeps saying these things and then he issues an apology. Right now, he is making these incendiary comments to win elections.”

It was inappropriate behavior for a head of state, Al-Shehri said. “Which president would use such language and issue these kind of comments?”