In a move that could get him in trouble with Hezbollah, Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil urged Friday the Arab nations not to allow the Iranian expansion in the region and stressed that the official Lebanese stance is only expressed by the cabinet.
Bassil hailed Saudi Arabia for overcoming the stances expressed by some Lebanese officials, in hints to Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah, considering that it “indicates the kingdom’s affection towards Lebanon.”
In a lengthy interview with the Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat he pointed out that the “official Lebanese stance is only expressed by its government.”
Nasrallah has been attacking Saudi Arabia as the source of the “takfiri ideology” in the world, vowing that it will suffer a “major defeat” in the Yemeni conflict.
The kingdom is leading an Arab coalition that launched an air war on the Iranian backed Shiite Holouthi rebels and their allies in Yemen on March 26.
“We are keen to preserve the good ties with Saudi Arabia, regardless of the stances that are issued within the belief of freedom of expression in Lebanon,” Bassil pointed out.
Bassil had accompanied Prime Minister Tammam Salam on a short visit to Riyadh recently.
Asked about the role played by the Islamic Republic of Iran in the region, the minister said that the “Arab states shouldn’t allow the Iranian expansion and take the initiative to prevent it from happening.”
“Iran entered the region to fight the Israeli presence… If the Arabs start battling Israel then Tehran will not be able to impose on us its agenda.” He said.
“We as Arabs agree that (the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant) ISIL represents terrorism… why don’t we fight it then,” Bassil wondered, adding “fighting terrorism is not the exclusive responsibility of any one sect , in a possible reference to the Shiites .”
“If Iran exploited any malfunction or negligence due to a dispute between Arabs, then we are to be blamed in the first place.”
Concerning the agreement between the Free Patriotic Movement and the Lebanese Forces, Bassil, who is the son-in-law of FPM chief MP Michel Aoun, a close ally of Hezbollah told the newspaper that the declaration of intent seeks to emphasize the importance of electing a strong head of state.
“The FPM had previously proposed an initiative… to elect a strong head of state,” the minister said.
Aoun’s initiative sets four solutions to the presidential deadend, at the forefront the election of a president directly from the people in two phases, first by the Christians, who would eliminate candidates and on a second phase by the Lebanese people.
Another solution would be a popular referendum and the candidate who garners most votes would be elected by the parliament as a new president.
The initiative also includes the possibility of electing the Maronite candidate who has the majority of representation at the parliament, while the fourth is staging the parliamentary elections ahead of the presidential polls based on a new electoral law that provides equality between Christians and Muslims.
Security /military officials
On the thorny appointment of high-ranking security and military officials at state posts, Bassil accused, those who are preventing the government from taking decisions, of “paralysis.”
“The cabinet should respect the opinion of Christians and not ignore it as always.”
Bassil also accused Interior Minister Nouhad al-Mashnouq of violating the Constitution over extending the term of Internal Security Forces chief Maj. Gen. Ibrahim Basbous by two years.
On Thursday, the minister vowed that the FPM will not allow the cabinet to take any decision until it appoints new security and military civil servants.
Bassil said from Rabieh that the Change and Refrom bloc Ministers will continue to annoy the government by preventing it from taking any decision until the matter is resolved.
“Discussions will focus on the appointments limbo,” he stressed.
Mashnouq postponed Thursday the retirement of Basbous, effectively extending his term in office.
Aoun has bluntly opposed the extension of Basbous’ term and other security officials, threatening to boycott cabinet.
The military posts in Lebanon are suffering as the result of the months-long presidential vacuum.
Media reports had said that the MP’s main objective is to receive political consensus on the appointment of Commando Regiment chief Brig. Gen. Chamel Roukoz (another son-in-law of Aoun’s ) as army chief as part of a package for the appointment of other top security officers.
Aoun however denied that he had made such a proposal.
Army Commander General Jean Kahwaji’s term ends in September.