Lebanese president, PM and parliament speaker express satisfaction with Saudi-French agreement

Lebanese president, PM and parliament speaker express satisfaction with Saudi-French agreement
Prime Minister Najib Mikati arrives at the Defense Ministry near Beirut on Nov. 22 to attend the 78th anniversary of Lebanon’s Independence Day. (AFP/File)
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Updated 06 December 2021

Lebanese president, PM and parliament speaker express satisfaction with Saudi-French agreement

Lebanese president, PM and parliament speaker express satisfaction with Saudi-French agreement
  • MP Ali Darwish, from Mikati’s parliamentary bloc, hopes 'positive signs to emerge in coming days’

BEIRUT: Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati has affirmed his government’s commitment to honoring its undertakings for reform.

Mikati said that his joint phone call on Saturday with Saudi and French leaders was “an important step toward restoring historic brotherly relations with Riyadh.”

A joint Saudi-French statement, following the joint phone call between Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and French President Macron with Mikati, linked “economic aid to Lebanon with the implementation of the required reforms.”

The statement reiterated demands that Lebanon should “implement comprehensive reforms, monitor borders, abide by the Taif Agreement, limit arms to the legitimate state institutions and not be a launching pad for any terrorist acts that destabilize the region (nor) a source of drug trafficking.”

Mikati also said: “I thank President Macron and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman for their keenness in maintaining the friendship toward Lebanon.”

Mikati called both President Michel Aoun and Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri and briefed them on the phone call.

Mikati’s media office said that Aoun and Berri “expressed their satisfaction and stressed their adherence to the best relations with Saudi Arabia and all brotherly Arab countries, especially the Gulf Cooperation Council countries.”

Mikati called “all parties in Lebanon to appreciate the sensitivity of the situation and circumstances and not to take any action or interfere in any matter that offends the Arab brothers and harms the Lebanese.”

He added: “It is time to commit again to the policy of disassociation and not to involve ourselves and our country in what has nothing to do with us.”

The Saudi position toward Lebanon left the Lebanese anxiously relieved about the extent of the seriousness of the ruling authority in implementing what was agreed on in Jeddah between French President Emmanuel Macron and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

Although Macron succeeded in opening the door to a solution to Lebanon’s diplomatic and economic crisis with Saudi Arabia, and thus the Gulf Cooperation Council countries, after the resignation of Information Minister George Kordahi from the government following his statements about the Kingdom, there is a fear that Hezbollah will continue to embroil Lebanon in regional politics.

However, MP Ali Darwish, who is from Prime Minister Mikati’s parliamentary bloc, expects “positive signs to emerge in the coming days.”

Darwish said that appointing a parliamentary committee to try presidents, ministers and MPs in return for allowing Cabinet sessions to take place was “one of the proposals.”

Darwish told Arab News that “the Saudi-French move has undoubtedly breached the wall of stalemate in Lebanon’s relationship with the Gulf, which Lebanon is keen to be extremely good in the midst of the conflict in the region.”

On the implementation of the French-Saudi statement, Darwish said: “The reforms are contained in the ministerial statement of Prime Minister Mikati’s government, and they are his government’s agenda, and he is striving to achieve them.”

Darwish added: “The most important thing now is to restore the connection that was cut off, to return the ambassadors to Saudi Arabia and some Gulf countries, and to return the Arab ambassadors to Lebanon.”

Darwish said that the Mikati government would “never interfere in the judicial matter, as there is a separation of powers.”

However, he indicated that activating the Parliamentary Council for the Trial of Presidents and Ministers was possible but it required steps to be taken by parliament.

Darwish added: “However, the trade-off between this matter and any other matter, especially the dismissal of the governor of the Banque du Liban, is not on the table.”

Darwish said that Mikati’s concern “is securing the livelihood of the Lebanese people in light of the current severe economic crisis.”

He said work was “now focused on rounding the corners and bringing the views closer.”


Qatari official’s Iran visit gives hope for talks breakthrough

Qatari official’s Iran visit gives hope for talks breakthrough
Updated 28 January 2022

Qatari official’s Iran visit gives hope for talks breakthrough

Qatari official’s Iran visit gives hope for talks breakthrough
  • Sheikh Tamim to meet US President Joe Biden on Jan. 31

DUBAI: Qatar’s top diplomat visited Iran on Thursday, days before Qatar’s emir holds talks in Washington at a crucial time for efforts by Tehran and major powers to revive a 2015 nuclear pact.
The visit by Qatari Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani comes after his Iranian counterpart Hossein Amirabdollahian on Monday said Tehran is ready to consider direct talks with Washington if it feels it can get a “good nuclear deal.”
However, Iran’s state news agency IRNA said the visit was not intended to help set up direct talks with Washington.
“Although Doha and Tehran are experiencing good and close relations, this visit ... has fueled some misconceptions. Some are fabricating it to facilitate direct talks with the United States,” IRNA said.
The US and Iran have held eight rounds of indirect talks in Vienna since April aimed at reinstating the pact that lifted sanctions against Tehran in exchange for restrictions on its nuclear program.
After then-US President Donald Trump quit the nuclear deal in 2018 and reimposed harsh sanctions, Iran gradually started violating the pact’s nuclear curbs.

BACKGROUND

The US and Iran have held eight rounds of indirect talks in Vienna since April aimed at reinstating the pact that lifted sanctions against Tehran in exchange for restrictions on its nuclear program.

Significant gaps remain about the speed and scope of returning to the deal, including Iran’s demand for a US guarantee of no further punitive steps, and how and when to restore curbs on Iran’s atomic work.
Qatar’s emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani, will hold talks with US President Joe Biden on Jan. 31. They will include efforts to salvage the pact. The minister, Sheikh Mohammed, is expected in Washington on Friday in advance of the emir’s visit.
Iran’s hard-line President Ebrahim Raisi emphasized the importance of “deepening ties between regional countries” in a meeting with Sheikh Mohammed, who invited the president to attend the Gas Exporting Countries Forum summit in February in Doha.
The lead US nuclear negotiator told Reuters on Sunday that securing the nuclear deal is unlikely unless Tehran releases four US citizens Washington says it is holding hostage.
While ruling out any US preconditions, Iran said on Monday that Tehran and Washington can reach “a lasting agreement on both separate paths (the Vienna talks and the prisoner exchange) if the other party has the will.”
Iranian officials have refused to comment on the matter, but Tehran has repeatedly said it is ready for a full prisoner exchange with Washington.
Tehran denies holding people for political reasons. It has accused many of the dual-nationals and foreigners in its jails of espionage.
Tehran says Iranians detained in the US, mostly for breaking sanctions, are being unjustly held.


UAE leading model of global human solidarity: Vatican secretary of state

UAE leading model of global human solidarity: Vatican secretary of state
Updated 28 January 2022

UAE leading model of global human solidarity: Vatican secretary of state

UAE leading model of global human solidarity: Vatican secretary of state
  • Cardinal Pietro Parolin was speaking during a phone call with UAE foreign minister
  • He expressed his solidarity with the UAE following a terrorist attack by Yemen’s Houthi militia

LONDON: The Vatican said the UAE is a leading model of global human solidarity, and its humanitarian initiatives help promote peaceful coexistence, tolerance and peace around the world, Emirati state news agency WAM reported on Thursday.
Speaking during a phone call with UAE Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed, the Vatican’s Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, expressed his solidarity with the UAE following a terrorist attack by Yemen’s Houthi militia on civilian facilities in the UAE capital.
The Iran-backed Houthi militia launched a number of drones and missiles toward Abu Dhabi on Jan. 17, which were intercepted and destroyed by the UAE defense ministry, however, remnants landed in separate areas around the capital, killing three people and injuring seven.
Parolin offered his sincere condolences to the victims of the attack, and wished the injured a speedy recovery.
Sheikh Abdullah thanked Parolin for his sentiments, and praised the Vatican’s outstanding role in serving humanitarian issues and promoting the values of tolerance and coexistence among all peoples.
Sheikh Abdullah also affirmed the UAE’s keenness to strengthen its relations with the Vatican across various levels.
Relations between the UAE and the Vatican have witnessed continuous growth, especially at the humanitarian level, after the Emirates hosted the Human Fraternity Meeting between Pope Francis, head of the Catholic Church, and Grand Imam of Al-Azhar Ahmad Al-Tayyib in 2019.
During the meeting, the “Document on Human Fraternity” was signed to promote human relations, build bridges of communication, harmony and love between peoples, and tackle extremism.


UAE medical convoy of one million COVID-19 vaccines arrives in Gaza Strip

A Palestinian security officer stands at attention during the arrival of the Sputnik V vaccine, donated by the UAE, at a cold storage warehouse in Gaza City on Jan. 26, 2022. (AFP)
A Palestinian security officer stands at attention during the arrival of the Sputnik V vaccine, donated by the UAE, at a cold storage warehouse in Gaza City on Jan. 26, 2022. (AFP)
Updated 28 January 2022

UAE medical convoy of one million COVID-19 vaccines arrives in Gaza Strip

A Palestinian security officer stands at attention during the arrival of the Sputnik V vaccine, donated by the UAE, at a cold storage warehouse in Gaza City on Jan. 26, 2022. (AFP)
  • The Sputnik vaccines will be immediately distributed to vaccination centers to encourage Gazans to get vaccinated
  • It is the largest medical support convoy from the UAE for the Gaza Strip since the pandemic began

LONDON: A UAE medical convoy of COVID-19 vaccines arrived in the Gaza Strip via the Rafah crossing on Wednesday to help combat the coronavirus pandemic, Emirati state news agency WAM reported on Thursday.
The convoy, containing one million Sputnik shots, “is the largest medical support convoy from the UAE for the Gaza Strip since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic,” the statement said.
The vaccines will be immediately distributed to vaccination centers to encourage Gazans to get vaccinated after the impoverished territory entered a fourth wave of the pandemic.
Ghazi Hamad, the undersecretary of the Ministry of Social Development, thanked the UAE for its assistance, which comes at a critical time, and said it would enhance the health sector’s ability to effectively confront the spread of the virus.
He was speaking during a press conference at the Rafah crossing in the southern Gaza Strip after the arrival of the convoy.
Former Palestinian health minister Dr. Jawad Al-Tibi said the health sector is one of the most time-consuming sectors and great efforts are required to combat this global epidemic.
“The UAE sends aid after aid to support our steadfastness and to face difficulties and diseases in the Gaza Strip,” he said, adding: “This batch of Emirati aid comes at the right time to support the health sector and vaccinate students.”


US envoy to Yemen holds talks in London to revive peace efforts

US envoy to Yemen holds talks in London to revive peace efforts
Updated 28 January 2022

US envoy to Yemen holds talks in London to revive peace efforts

US envoy to Yemen holds talks in London to revive peace efforts
  • Talks focused on the urgent need for de-escalation and to address economic stability and the humanitarian crisis in Yemen
  • US says has to fully consider humanitarian implications to designating Houthis as terrorist entity

LONDON: The US envoy to Yemen Tim Lenderking held talks with senior UK and Gulf officials in London, as part of his first tour of 2022 to reinvigorate peace efforts in coordination with the UN.
During talks with the British Minister for Middle East and North Africa James Cleverly, the two sides stressed they are “committed to working together to advance a durable resolution to the Yemen conflict, help stabilize the economy, and support urgent steps to ease the humanitarian crisis.”
The US envoy also took part in a UK-hosted Quint meeting to discuss the situation in Yemen with senior representatives from Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Oman and Britain, along with UN special envoy Hans Grundberg.

Lenderking was in Riyadh, the UAE and Oman last week, where he focused on the urgent need for de-escalation and the protection of all civilians, bringing the parties together to support a UN-led inclusive peace process, and doing more to address economic stability, humanitarian assistance access and fuel shortages, a State Department spokesperson told Arab News.
His visit comes as the Iran-backed Houthi militia have stepped up cross-border attacks against populated areas in Saudi Arabia and have attempted to strike the UAE capital twice in the last two weeks. The Houthis have also continued their brutal offensive on the Yemeni province of Marib, which has served as a safe haven for millions of internally displaced persons who have been fleeing the fighting since the conflict began in 2014.
The US has repeatedly pledged to continue to work with their partners in the region, including Saudi Arabia and the UAE, to help them defend against these deplorable Houthi attacks, the State Department said.

However, increased calls from regional allies are putting pressure on US President Joe Biden’s administration to relist the Houthis as a terrorist organization one year after it reversed a last-minute decision by former President Donald Trump to designate the militia.
“We will continue to work with our allies and partners in the region especially to promote accountability for the Houthis, for those Houthi leaders that have been behind these terrorist attacks,” the State Department said.
It added that the the Houthis’ redesignation as an “international terrorist organization” is “under review” and the US is expected to implement additional steps, including sanctions, to hold Houthi leaders accountable.
But when asked by Arab News about the possibility that the Biden administration will relist the militia, it said: “The United States remains committed to improving the humanitarian situation in Yemen and would have to fully consider the humanitarian implications.”
State Department spokesman Ned Price had also said that they not going to relent in designating Houthi leaders and entities involved in military offensives that threaten civilians and regional stability and perpetuate the conflict, who are responsible for some of the human rights abuses or the violations of international humanitarian law.
“When you talk about the humanitarian crisis, there is one actor that is primarily responsible for the suffering of the Yemeni people, the widespread suffering of the Yemeni people. And that is the Houthis,” Price told reporters at a press briefing.
He added they are using every appropriate tool to hold the Houthis to account.
The State Department reiterated the American condemnation of the Houthi attacks on Saudi Arabia and the UAE and said it remained committed to solving the Yemeni conflict.
“Helping advance a durable resolution that ends the conflict in Yemen, improves Yemeni lives, and creates the space for Yemenis to collectively determine their own future remains a top US foreign policy priority,” it said.


Presidential visit to Ankara could start ‘new period’ in Israel-Turkey relations: Erdogan

Presidential visit to Ankara could start ‘new period’ in Israel-Turkey relations: Erdogan
Updated 27 January 2022

Presidential visit to Ankara could start ‘new period’ in Israel-Turkey relations: Erdogan

Presidential visit to Ankara could start ‘new period’ in Israel-Turkey relations: Erdogan
  • Arab News told announcement on appointment of ambassadors possible before Israeli president’s trip

ANKARA: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has predicted the start of a positive “new period” in relations with Israel when his Israeli counterpart Isaac Herzog visits Turkey next month.

During a televised interview, the Turkish leader announced that Herzog would make the trip to Ankara before mid-February, prompting speculation among analysts that a move on the appointment of ambassadors to both countries could be imminent.

Although precise dates for the visit have not yet been revealed, it will mark the highest-level trip by an Israeli official to Turkey for years when then-Israeli President Shimon Peres visited Ankara on the invitation of then-PM Erdogan.

In his nighttime TV announcement, Erdogan said: “With this visit, a new period can begin in Israel-Turkey relations.”

According to experts, any success in turning a new page in the fragile relationship between the two nations will depend on several factors, including the re-exchanging of envoys, and restrictions on Hamas’ activities in Turkey.

Herzog and Erdogan have spoken three times by phone since July, both passing on friendly messages, and last week Turkish Minister of Foreign Affairs Mevlut Cavusoglu called his Israeli counterpart Yair Lapid, the first time such communication had taken place between the two nations’ foreign ministers in 13 years.

Gallia Lindenstrauss, a senior research fellow at the Institute for National Security Studies in Israel, told Arab News that the appointment of ambassadors would be a concrete first step toward the normalization of Turkish-Israeli relations.

“There is some Israeli concern with the choice of ambassador on the Turkish side, but this is an issue that can be resolved,” she said.

She noted that any significant improvement in the COVID-19 situation could potentially cause friction over the entrance of certain Turkish citizens to Israel.

“Israel might deny entry to those it suspects are contributing to igniting tensions in the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and among Palestinians with Israeli citizenship, and Turkey will likely claim these people are innocent visitors.

“While a report that surfaced this week of Turkish willingness to curb some of Hamas’ orchestrated military activity from its territory is welcomed news in Israel, a negative development in this realm will be an additional cause of friction between Israel and Turkey,” Lindenstrauss added.

To what extent Turkey’s vocal support for the Palestinian cause, including settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, will be reconciled within the rapprochement process is still unknown.

Potential energy projects between the two countries are also on the negotiation table especially after Washington recently decided to withdraw support for the Israeli-Greek East Med pipeline. Following the decision, Erdogan said Turkey was ready to work with Israel on reviving gas transfer to Europe via Turkish soil.

Ankara is eager to diversify its energy resources in the wake of Iran’s sudden move to cut gas flows to Turkey and in the face of a threat to gas imports posed by the ongoing Ukrainian crisis.

“With regard to Turkish statements on renewal of the option of Israel exporting natural gas to Turkey and from there to Europe, it is not clear if developments since 2016 connected to Israel’s gas exports to and through Egypt, as well as recent developments surrounding the Arab pipeline, do not preclude such a pipeline,” Lindenstrauss said.

On the importance of Herzog’s visit, she added: “When Shimon Peres visited Turkey in 2007, he and his Palestinian counterpart, Mahmoud Abbas, gave speeches one after the other in front of the Turkish Parliament. This was the first speech of an Israeli leader in a Muslim-majority country’s parliament.

“Thus, it will be a good reminder that Ankara is capable of playing a more balanced role with regard to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and the benefits of such a more dispassionate stance.”

Dr. Selin Nasi, London representative of the Ankara Policy Center and a respected researcher on Turkish Israeli relations, told Arab News that Herzog’s visit would be important for Turkey in overcoming its ongoing diplomatic isolation and improving relations with regional countries.

She said: “An announcement about the appointment of ambassadors may be expected before Herzog’s visit. Actually, it is just a technical detail. Both countries didn’t downgrade their diplomatic relations, they just called back their ambassadors.”

During the upcoming meeting in Ankara, Nasi expected the Palestinian issue, energy, trade, tourism, and regional security, including East Med balances, Syria, Iran, and Libya, to be high on the agenda.

“Ankara would prefer conditioning its rapprochement with Israel with the improvement in living conditions of Palestinian people. At the same time, Israel would expect from Turkey a step forward in terms of Hamas activities in the country,” she added.

Nasi pointed out that Israel had never closed its door to any dialogue opportunity with Turkey. “But its prerequisite is clear: Turkey should stop its support to Hamas. Israel therefore expects clear reassurances from the Turkish side.”

Meanwhile, experts believe that a resolution to the Cyprus issue will be the key to moving forward with any energy project between the two countries.

Nasi said: “The energy topic is preferred by the politicians because it creates a positive agenda in the public opinion of both countries.”

Erdogan is expected to visit the UAE on Feb. 14 as another step toward mending his country’s frayed ties with countries in the region.