Lebanon alone must decide its own future, says Iran foreign minister

Lebanon alone must decide its own future, says Iran foreign minister
Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif speaks to reporters at Lebanon’s foreign ministry headquarters in the capital Beirut on August 14, 2020. (AFP)
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Updated 14 August 2020

Lebanon alone must decide its own future, says Iran foreign minister

Lebanon alone must decide its own future, says Iran foreign minister
  • Iran backs Lebanon’s powerful armed movement Hezbollah
  • Lebanese had been staging angry protests against a political elite blamed for the country’s many woes even before the explosion

BEIRUT: Only the Lebanese people and their representatives can decide the country’s future, Iran’s foreign minister said on a visit to Beirut on Friday, following the massive blast at the city’s port that killed 177 people and prompted the government to resign.
Iran backs Lebanon’s powerful armed movement Hezbollah, which along with its allies helped form the outgoing government. The United States classifies Hezbollah as a terrorist group.
Mohammed Javad Zarif was speaking after senior US and French officials met President Michel Aoun in a flurry of Western diplomacy that has focused on urging Lebanon to fight entrenched corruption and enact long-delayed reforms in order to unlock international financial aid to tackle an economic crisis.
“In our view it is not humane to exploit the pain and suffering of the people for political goals,” Iran’s Zarif told a joint televised news conference with Lebanon’s caretaker foreign minister.
“We believe that the government and the people of Lebanon should decide on the future of Lebanon.”
Lebanese had been staging angry protests against a political elite blamed for the country’s many woes even before the Aug 4. blast, which injured 6,000 people, damaged swathes of the Mediterranean city and left 300,000 homeless. Some 30 people remain missing.
Aoun tweeted that he had held separate talks on Friday with both US Under-Secretary of State for Political Affairs David Hale and French Defense Minister Florence Parly.
“Empty promises”
Hale said on Thursday the United States’ FBI would join a probe into the blast at a hangar in the port where highly-explosive material detonated in a mushroom cloud. Hale called for an end to “dysfunctional governments and empty promises.”
International humanitarian aid has poured in but foreign states have linked any financial assistance to reform of the Lebanese state, which has defaulted on its huge sovereign debts.
Zarif said Tehran and private Iranian companies were ready to help Lebanon with reconstruction and rehabilitating the country’s electricity sector.
France’s navy helicopter carrier Tonnerre docked at the wrecked port, where Lebanese authorities say more than 2,000 tons of ammonium nitrate had been stored for years without safety measures.
Aoun has promised a swift investigation into the blast. He has said the probe would look into whether the cause was negligence, an accident or “external interference.”
Representatives of the victims’ families held a news conference and read out an appeal to the United Nations Security Council urging it to appoint an international investigation commission and refer the blast to an international court.
“The Lebanese government’s negligence and corruption have played a major role in this crime. Only an independent neutral investigation and prosecution will reveal the truth, punish those responsible and do justice,” said a website set up on behalf of the victims (victimsofbeirutmassacre.com).
State news agency NNA said questioning of some ministers due to take place on Friday had been postponed as the judge appointed for the task said he did not have the authority to question government ministers.
The resignation of the cabinet has added to the uncertainty. Agreement on a new government is likely to prove very difficult in a country with deep factional rifts and a sectarian power-sharing system.
The country’s senior Christian cleric, who has said Beirut must keep out of regional conflicts, voiced concern on Thursday that a new Lebanon was being “cooked in the kitchens” of foreign countries, without naming them.
“They have started cooking things that are not in Lebanon’s interest at all but rather in the interest of politicians and factions, which we reject completely and will fight against,” Maronite Patriarch Bechara Boutros Al-Rai said in a sermon.


Foreign forces ignore UN’s Libya exit deadline under fragile truce

Foreign forces ignore UN’s Libya exit deadline under fragile truce
In this file photo taken on November 19, 2020, a Libyan stands in front of a school, which was damaged during fighting between rival factions, in the capital Tripoli's suburb of Ain Zara. (AFP)
Updated 24 January 2021

Foreign forces ignore UN’s Libya exit deadline under fragile truce

Foreign forces ignore UN’s Libya exit deadline under fragile truce
  • Ankara and Moscow appear intent on defending their interests under any final settlement

TRIPOLI: Foreign forces ignored a deadline to pull out of Libya as scheduled on Saturday under a UN-backed cease-fire deal, highlighting the fragility of peace efforts after a decade of conflict.

Satellite images broadcast by CNN show a trench running tens of kilometers dug by “Russian mercenaries” near the frontline coastal city of Sirte, as main foreign protagonists Ankara and Moscow appear intent on defending their interests under any final settlement.
An unidentified US intelligence official, quoted by the American news network, said there was “no intent or movement by either Turkish or Russian forces to abide by the UN-brokered agreement.”
“This has the potential to derail an already fragile peace process and cease-fire. It will be a really difficult year ahead,” he said.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Monday urged all “regional and international actors to respect the provisions” of the Oct. 23 cease-fire accord that set out a withdrawal within three months of all foreign troops and mercenaries.
That deadline passed on Saturday, with no movement announced or observed on the ground.
The UN estimates there are still some 20,000 foreign troops and mercenaries in Libya helping the warring factions, the UN-recognized Government of National Accord in Tripoli and military strongman Khalifa Haftar in the east. The GNA has received military support from Turkey. Haftar has the backing of Russia.
Guterres called on all parties to implement the terms of the cease-fire “without delay,” something he noted “includes ensuring the departure of all foreign fighters and mercenaries from Libya, and the full and unconditional respect of the Security Council arms embargo,” which has been in place since the 2011 NATO-backed uprising that ousted and killed longtime ruler Muammar Qaddafi.

HIGHLIGHT

The UN estimates there are still some 20,000 foreign troops and mercenaries in Libya helping the warring factions.

Any withdrawal or end to foreign interference “does not depend on the Libyans but on the outside powers,” said Khaled Al-Montasser, professor of international relations at Tripoli University.
Turkey on Friday welcomed a deal reached at UN-backed talks for Libya’s warring factions to set up an interim executive to rule the North African country until polls in December.
Turkey has backed the GNA with military advisers, materiel and mercenaries, repelling an advance on Tripoli by Haftar’s forces, and it also has a military base in Al-Watiya on the border with Tunisia under a 2019 military accord.
Last December, parliament in Ankara extended by 18 months its authorization for Turkey’s troop deployment in Libya, in apparent disregard of the cease-fire deal.
“The mercenaries are unlikely to leave Libya so long as the countries which have engaged them have not guaranteed their interests in the new transitional phase,” said Montasser, referring to the multiple tracks of UN-sponsored talks currently underway.
“Their presence keeps alive the threat of military confrontation at any moment, while the current calm staying in place seems uncertain,” he said.
Most of the foreign forces are concentrated around Sirte, at Al-Jufra airbase held by Haftar’s forces 500 km south of Tripoli and further west in Al-Watiya.