Lebanese PM Mikati says paid dues for special tribunal

Lebanese leaders say funding spared Lebanon serious differences

STL, international organizations thank Lebanon for funding

Nasrallah reiterates accusations STL is illegitimate

Former Premier Hariri says even one-thousand speeches won’t cancel state’s recognition of court

Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati said Hezbollah will understand the decision to fund the Special Tribunal for Lebanon, adding that a Cabinet session will be scheduled next week.

“I am confident that all Lebanese parties and primarily Hezbollah and its wise leadership will understand this step and recognize the critical situation that we are going through,” Mikati told reporters at the Grand Serail.

“The national interest and the political reality will always triumph any other considerations,” he added.

Mikati’s remarks came a day after he announced that $3.6 million had been transferred to the STL in a bid to pay Lebanon’s share of the U.N.-backed court’s annual budget.

The Hezbollah-lead March 8 coalition, representing the majority in the government, has voiced their rejection to the tribunal altogether, questioning its credibility and constitutionality.

Hezbollah chief Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah is expected to address the STL issue in a televised speech Thursday night.

In late June, the STL indicted four Hezbollah members in the 2005 assassination of former statesman Rafik Hariri in Beirut.

Hezbollah has described the four suspects as “honorable” men in the resistance, adding they will never be apprehended.

Mikati, who was named prime minister in January by the March 8 alliance, also said that the work of the government will resume and a Cabinet session will be scheduled next week.

“[I] will call for a Cabinet meeting next week to follow up on social, administrative and development issues that the government has been handling since its formation ... especially in terms of approving the 2012 draft budget and send it to parliament,” Mikati said.

Last Wednesday, nine ministers from the Free Patriotic Movement boycotted the Cabinet session in what they describe as a protest to the government’s poor performance. The boycott, however, was seen as a response to Mikati for threatening to resign if the Cabinet failed to fund the international court.

One of the FPM conditions for rejoining Cabinet sessions was that the draft budget, which it described as more important than the STL, be discussed.

“I expect everyone to judge based on actions and assess the step of financing from a national interest point of view ... and not allow the issue [of STL] to be open for dispute,” Mikati said.

The prime minister also said that his decision to fund the tribunal gives way for other national issues to take priority especially in the social and economic fields.

Mikati, who recently began holding a question-and-answer session with his followers on the social networking website almost daily, also advised Lebanese not to “be over-obsessesed” on the issue, but rather tackle other national priorities.

“Now that financing of STL has been secured, we shouldn't be over-obsessed but rather tackle other [National]...priorities simultaneously,” he added.

In response to comments criticizing the extreme views of lawmakers in both the March 14 and March 8 coalitions, Mikati said he was glad that centrism finally paid off.

“Glad that 'centrism' pays off! Can't severely bi-polarize the country & its people forever. Together we can achieve more!” Mikati said.

Mikati and President Michel Sleiman are seen as centrist politicians, along with Progressive Socialist Party leader Walid Jumblatt who has sought to remain a centrist, assuring that he has good relations with both political camps.

The Special Tribunal for Lebanon confirmed Thursday that it has received Lebanon’s share of the court’s annual budget, an STL statement said, one day after Mikati announced he had transferred the required amount.

“[The STL] thanks the Government of Lebanon for the full payment for 2011, which we received this morning. With this contribution of US$32,184,635,” the STL said.

“The representatives of the Lebanese people have demonstrated their commitment to work for the rule of law and long-term stability. We look forward to the continuing co-operation of Lebanon as we work towards completing our judicial mandate,” the statement added.

On Wednesday, Mikati announced he had transferred Lebanon’s share of the tribunal, after days of consultations to resolve the issue of the funding.

Under U.N. Security Council Resolution 1757, Lebanon is obligated to pay 49 percent of the court's annual budget, while the rest of the funds are secured from donor countries.

The STL has indicted four Hezbollah members in the 2005 assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri in Beirut.

Hezbollah has denied allegations, saying the suspects were "honorable" men of the resistance and will be tried in absentia.

Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah came out Thursday against Prime Minister Najib Mikati’s decision to pay Lebanon’s share to the funding of a U.N-backed, but said his party will not stir up trouble out of concern for the country’s political stability and the survival of the government.

Reiterating his accusation that the Special Tribunal for Lebanon is “an American-Israeli court” designed to further political ends rather than achieve justice in the 2005 killing of ex-Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, Nasrallah said he did not know whether Mikati’s move to pay Lebanon’s share to the STL’s annual budget was legal or constitutional.

“While stressing our firm rejection of the legality and constitutionality of funding the tribunal or cooperating with it in any way, we will not cause a problem in the country. We will give priority to the higher national interest above any other interest,” he said in a televised speech commemorating Ashura. “We don’t agree to the [STL’s] funding but we will not cause a problem,” he added. “We are keen on political stability and on the government’s survival.”

On Ashura, which falls next Tuesday, the 10th day of Muharram, the first month of the Islamic lunar calendar, Shiite Muslims commemorate the martyrdom of Hussein, grandson of the Prophet Mohammad.

Outlining Hezbollah’s position on the STL, which has indicted four party members in Hariri’s assassination, Nasrallah said: “In our view, this tribunal is unconstitutional, politicized, American and Israeli until the opposite has been proven. It is also unjust. We have rejected and still reject any form of financing it or dealing with it.”

He said had Wednesday’s Cabinet session been held, Hezbollah and its March 8 allies would have voted against the funding of the STL regardless of the consequences. Mikati had vowed to resign if the Cabinet failed to approve the payment of Lebanon’s dues to the tribunal’s budget.

Nasrallah’s speech came a day after Mikati, in a surprise move just hours before the Cabinet was set to meet to vote on the controversial funding issue, announced he transferred Lebanon’s share of the STL’s budget which amounted to $32.6 million. Political sources told The Daily Star the money came from the budget of the prime minister’s office and was paid through the Higher Relief Committee. Mikati defended his move, saying: “This is a national decision to preserve Lebanon.”

Addressing a large crowd gathered at a complex in Beirut’s southern suburbs through a huge screen via a video link, Nasrallah said Mikati had “embarrassed himself” by moving to fund the STL even though he knew a majority in the Cabinet, namely Hezbollah and its March 8 allies, was against it. “Here, we have the right to blame Mikati. He also brought matters to a head when he announced his desire to resign if the funding issue was voted down,” he said.

Nasrallah added that Hezbollah was against paying money from the pockets of the Lebanese people to fund the tribunal.

He said he was told that money in the form of gifts and donations would be collected to repay the amount of money borrowed from the Higher Relief Committee to fund the STL.

Nasrallah urged Mikati to address the issue of so-called “false witnesses” who allegedly misled the U.N. investigation into Hariri’s assassination in the next Cabinet meeting and refer it to the Higher Judicial Council.

The dispute over the false witnesses was the catalyst behind the toppling of former Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s Cabinet in January by the Hezbollah-led March 8 alliance after the Cabinet rejected the alliance’s demand to refer the case to the Higher Judicial Council.

Responding to Nasrallah’s remarks, a senior March 14 source told The Daily Star Thursday night: “Everyone knows any donation has to be approved by the Cabinet. Then, it becomes treasury money. He [Nasrallah] spent the better part of three years accusing [former Prime Minister Fouad] Siniora of allocating donors’ money after [the 2006 Israeli war on Lebanon]. Why wasn’t Siniora free to spend it as he wished?”

“I have never seen before in our political system that someone who isn’t president of the republic or Parliament speaker, even a member of Cabinet or an elected or appointed official, give instructions to the prime minister,” the source said.

Earlier Thursday, Mikati defended his decision to pay Lebanon’s share of the STL’s funding, saying it was “a basic step” in the context of the Cabinet’s work. He said following the funding of the STL, the government will now shift its attention to tackling the country’s socio-economic and financial problems.

Responding to critics of his decision, Mikati said: “Some of the analyses issued today on the step I took yesterday are inaccurate or incorrect. As I said yesterday, what I did was a national decision stemming only from my national and personal convictions and from the will of the Lebanese. It was not a favor from me to anyone.”

Referring to Hezbollah and its March 8 allies who opposed the STL’s funding, Mikati said: “With my understanding and respect of the opinions which expressed reservations about the tribunal and its performance, I am confident that all the Lebanese parties, at the forefront of which is Hezbollah and its wise command, will show understanding toward this step and realize the delicate circumstances through which we are passing and they will, as always, give priority to national interest and political realism above any other consideration.”

Meanwhile, the Netherlands-based STL confirmed receiving Lebanon’s share and thanked the Lebanese government for its contribution.

“The Special Tribunal for Lebanon thanks the government of Lebanon for the full payment for 2011, which we received this morning. With this contribution of $32,184,635, the representatives of the Lebanese people have demonstrated their commitment to work for the rule of law and long-term stability,” the STL said in a statement.

U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon telephoned Mikati to congratulate him on paying Lebanon’s share to the funding of the STL. Ban told Mikati he supported his efforts aimed at bolstering stability and peace in Lebanon.

U.N. Special Coordinator for Lebanon ad interim Robert Watkins welcomed Mikati’s decision to pay Lebanon’s share to the STL’s funding. “This is a very important step for Lebanon toward meeting its international obligations and toward preserving the country’s stability,” he said after meeting Mikati.

Former Prime Minister Saad Hariri responded to Hezbollah’s scathing attack Friday, after Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah accused him of compromising on the Special Tribunal for Lebanon for the sake of staying in power.

“[Nasrallah’s] speech expressed his deep disturbance over funding the international tribunal … The tribunal has been funded and he contributed to that happening,” a statement released by Hariri’s press office said.

“[The] speech also expressed, with an unprecedented bitterness, his unlimited infuriation at Saad Hariri,” it added.

On Thursday, Nasrallah accused Hariri of compromising on the issue of the STL in a bid to retain the post of prime minister earlier this year. He also portrayed Hariri as having no interest in the stability or security of Lebanon.

During the televised speech, Nasrallah showed documents that he claimed were an agreement, prepared by Qatari and Turkish officials last year, to settle the issue of the tribunal in return for Hariri maintaining his position as prime minister.

“The agreement stipulated that Saad Hariri would cut the tribunal’s funding, withdraw Lebanese judges from the court, and terminate … the protocol which binds Lebanon and the court … in return for handing over the country to Hariri and his allies,” Nasrallah said.

Hariri denied Nasrallah’s accusations, describing them as false and saying that such claims reveal that Hezbollah is disturbed by Hariri’s political status.

Nasrallah’s speech came a day after Prime Minister Najib Mikati announced he had transferred Lebanon’s share of the tribunal’s funding which amounted to $32.6 million. Political sources told The Daily Star the money came from the budget of the prime minister's office and was paid through the Higher Relief Committee.

“The question on every Lebanese citizen’s mind, especially Hezbollah supporters’ minds, is how could Hezbollah's leadership, its secretary-general and the Shura Council justify funding the tribunal they claim to be Israeli?” Hariri asked. “Isn't it logical for them to say that funding the tribunal ... is a national treason which requires the Lebanese judiciary to prosecute whoever supported it?”

In late June, weeks after Mikati formed his Cabinet, the tribunal indicted four Hezbollah members accused of involvement in the assassination of Hariri. The party had denied allegations, saying the four suspects would never be apprehended.

Hezbollah has accused the U.N.-backed court of being a “U.S.-Israeli” tool aimed at targeting the resistance and sowing sectarian strife in Lebanon.

The resistance group and its allies in the March 8 coalition, which holds a majority in Mikati’s Cabinet, have warned that they would block any attempt to fund the tribunal through the government.