Lebanon’s premier walks tightrope on Syria


The tightrope Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati has been walking on neighboring Syria has gotten more difficult in the past year.

In an interview with CNN’s Elise Labott this week at the United Nations General Assembly, Mikati made it clear that his country must stay neutral in the Syrian civil war.

He has had to avoid criticism of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, which he believes would upset the political balance in Lebanon.

“We are saying, please, we don’t want to interfere,” Mikati told Labott. “We cannot do anything. Don’t ask from Lebanon things that are beyond our capability to do.”

But at the same time, Lebanon will not tolerate the kind of continued violation of its sovereignty by Syria. Mikati has adopted a policy of “disassociation” when it comes to Syria and was quite frank he has to look out for Lebanon first.

“We dissociate ourselves from interfering in Syria,” Mikati said, adding that “this doesn’t mean at all that we accept that Syrians will interfere in our political affairs.”

Last month, Lebanese intelligence arrested former a pro-Syrian information minister over an alleged Syrian plot to set off bombs in public places.

Mikati would not take a position on the fate of the regime in Syria. But as current chair of the Arab League, Lebanon takes into account the position of its Arab allies, most of which have called for Assad to go and for a political transition to begin.

Mikati is a Sunni from Tripoli who needs to have credibility among his Sunni population, which is aghast at Assad’s crackdown against Sunnis.

Lebanon is taking care of tens of thousands of Syrian refugees.

The country also has several rebel supporters living there, smuggling weapons to fighters across the border.

Mikati has adopted a Lebanese policy of “disassociation” when it comes to Syria and was quite frank he has to look out for Lebanon first.