Aoun backs Hariri as ‘strongest Sunni leader’

Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri remains the strongest Sunni leader despite a decline in his political power, according to Lebanese President Michel Aoun. (Reuters)
Updated 01 November 2018
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Aoun backs Hariri as ‘strongest Sunni leader’

  • Lebanese President Michel Aoun: Saad Hariri remains the strongest Sunni leader despite a decline in his political power.
  • Aoun’s comments came two days after differences emerged blocking a deal over a new national unity government.

BEIRUT: Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri remains the strongest Sunni leader despite a decline in his political power, according to Lebanese President Michel Aoun.
“The prime minister, whether it is Hariri or anyone else, must be strong and should not be weakened,” Aoun said.
Aoun’s comments came two days after differences emerged blocking a deal over a new national unity government.
The disagreement centers on a demand by Hezbollah for one of its Sunni allies to be given a portfolio in the 30-seat Cabinet to reflect gains the group made in the May 6 elections.
In a televised interview broadcast by all Lebanese channels on the second anniversary of his becoming president, Aoun described Hezbollah’s demand as “a type of political tactic that is hurting our overall strategy because any delay will reflect on Lebanon.”
He said: “The group that now demands a representation in the government amounts to individuals, not a bloc. We represent blocs according to certain criteria. They have formed a group, so can they have a Cabinet post when each of them has a different political orientation?
“What are they going to do? We do not want to weaken the prime minister as he has responsibilities that require him to be strong without anything to shake him.”
Aoun reiterated his previous comments about the representation of independent Sunni MPs. “This is a message. They may hear it if they wish to, and, if not, I cannot interfere more than I already have. I have stepped out of my reserved stance because the situation is not easy, and I do not know if everyone understands it like I do.”
He said that “resorting to a de facto government does not serve Lebanon. We are building a government through mutual understanding and solidarity, and this is not possible through unilateralism and conditions.”
On the possibility of the emergence of a Sunni-Shiite division, Aoun said: “Every side must understand that they should not expose national unity to any gap that can be exploited by someone.”
Aoun’s stance drew praise through Twitter from Hariri, who described the president’s words to the Lebanese people as “the epitome of honesty, frankness and responsibility.
“With you, we will not retreat from our march toward the advancement of Lebanon,” Hariri said.
The comments by Aoun and Hariri coincided with a warning by the interior minister in the caretaker government, Nohad El-Machnouk, over Hezbollah’s demand.
Machnouk said that “the large reservoir that is called the national responsibility of the Sunnis has begun to run out after it has been drained — I do not wish to say blackmailed. We are not the only ones responsible for and concerned with the covenant.
“Every day they lay a new mine and create new standards which they apply selectively ... yet contradict them elsewhere. Enough is enough. Things have reached a point where we can no longer observe quietly and where we must reconsider all the rules that have been fabricated. Despite that we have confirmed that we are the people of one state and a shared life,” he said.


Iran’s Hassan Rouhani may skip UN meet over US visa delay

Updated 38 min 7 sec ago

Iran’s Hassan Rouhani may skip UN meet over US visa delay

TEHRAN: Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani and his delegation could be forced into skipping next week’s UN General Assembly because the United States has yet to issue them visas, state media said Wednesday.
Rouhani and his delegation had been scheduled to travel to New York for the annual UN gathering on Monday, but that was now looking unlikely given the lack of visas, state news agency IRNA said.
“If the visas aren’t issued in a few hours, this trip will probably be canceled,” IRNA reported.
The delegation includes Iran’s top diplomat Mohammad Javad Zarif, who the United States imposed sanctions against on July 31.
The foreign minister had been due to travel to New York on Friday morning, according to IRNA.
The absence of Rouhani would ruin France’s bid to arrange a meeting between him and US President Donald Trump as part of European efforts to de-escalate tensions between the arch-foes.
“Iran’s absence will show that in contrast with its commitments to the United Nations and international organizations within the framework of agreements, diplomacy has no value for the United States,” IRNA said.
“Although the Islamic Republic of Iran has not left the scene and it continues its active diplomacy, the US government must answer for its behavior,” it added.
The UN General Assembly debate is due to begin on Tuesday.
As the host government, the United States generally is obliged to issue visas to diplomats who serve at UN headquarters.
But Iran and the United States have been at loggerheads since May last year when Trump abandoned a 2015 nuclear deal and began reimposing sanctions in its campaign of “maximum pressure.”
Iran responded by scaling back its commitments under the landmark accord, which gave it the promise of sanctions relief in return for limiting the scope of its nuclear program.