Beirut : The US and UAE have warned Lebanon about maintaining ties with Hezbollah, as the country’s president convened a meeting to bring together political parties with the aim of “fortifying civil peace.”
Lebanon’s domestic turmoil rocketed last year, with street protests, high-profile resignations and financial chaos. A new government, led by Prime Minister Hassan Diab, was formed in January. But there have been concerns about its composition as the majority of its ministers belong to Hezbollah and its allies.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told reporters on Wednesday that the US was prepared to communicate with any Lebanese government that carried out real reform, telling a press conference that the world would act in the interest of Lebanon if this was achieved, and if the government operated in a way that was not “beholden to” Hezbollah.
“Lebanon’s financial crisis is rooted in decades of state corruption and waste,” he added.
The UAE’s minister of state for foreign affairs, Anwar Gargash, went one step further in his assessment of the country’s plight. “Lebanon is paying the price of deteriorating ties with wealthy Gulf Arab states as it struggles to cope with a deep economic crisis,” he said in an interview.
He regarded Lebanon’s economic meltdown as “very worrying” and said that the UAE would only consider offering financial support in concert with other states.
“If we see some of our friends and the major powers interested in Lebanon and working in a plan, we will consider that. But until now, what we are really seeing here is a deterioration of Lebanon’s Arab relations and Gulf relations over the past 10 years. Lebanon is partly paying the price for that right now.”
The minister added that there had been an “accumulation of problems” in Lebanon and “a dictation” of political discourse by Hezbollah which had an “army within the state.”
“The UAE repeatedly warned Beirut about deteriorating relations with the Gulf. If you burn these bridges it will be very difficult for you to use the huge reservoirs of goodwill and financial support that Lebanon needs.”
The strong words came ahead of a meeting convened by President Michel Aoun at Baabda Palace, with issues related to Hezbollah’s weapons, controlling the borders with Syria, and the US Caesar Act on the agenda.
But, in a clear sign of entrenched positions and deep divisions, opposition parties, former President Amine Gemayel, and all former prime ministers boycotted the meeting.
Former President Michel Suleiman criticized Hezbollah at the meeting for breaking national agreements, thereby preventing the implementation of the state’s pledges and resulting in its isolation, its loss of credibility, and a loss of confidence by friendly countries, the Lebanese people, investors, depositors, and tourists. “This has contributed to the decline of the national currency,” he said.
He called for a return to the 2012 Baabda Declaration, which was aimed at preventing any Lebanese nationals from fighting in Syria, whether alongside the opposition or President Bashar Assad’s regime. He also called for the formation of a national authority to abolish political sectarianism and said that measures to repel Israeli aggression must be restricted to the “legitimate authority.”
But Mohammad Raad, head of the Hezbollah bloc in parliament, defended the “resistance and its weapons” while also criticizing the Baabda Declaration.
The parties at the meeting issued a concluding statement. It called for “the cessation of all kinds of incitement campaigns that would stir sedition” and said that violent opposition did not fall under democratic and peaceful opposition.
The parties emphasized that Lebanon was going through “a crisis more dangerous than war” and stressed their commitment to structural reforms in public finances and the adoption of an IMF bail-out as long as it did not contradict Lebanon’s interests and sovereignty. They feared the impact of foreign policies, such as the US government’s Caesar Act targeting Assad’s regimes and its allies, displacement and resettlement, and the execution of the Palestinian cause, on Lebanon’s “Arab identity and its inclusive location.”
The meeting was held against a backdrop of street protests sparked by the continued deterioration of the dollar exchange rate and the soaring prices of commodities and foodstuffs.
The price of a kilogram of meat has hit LBP85,000 ($56.4), prompting butchers in different parts of the country to close because they have been unable to sell their goods.