Lebanese PM Mikati urges Clinton in New York to back Lebanese army to fulfill its tasks

Mikati in UN Security Council stresses Lebanon’s commitment to resolution 1701, Special Tribunal on Lebanon, keenness on Syria’s unity

Spiritual summit rejects interference, agrees on principle of coexistence, Taif deal

Future bloc calls on government to finance STL

Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati told U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton that Lebanon will fulfill its international obligations Monday, while Clinton cautioned Mikati against becoming involved in the situation in Syria.

“We discussed the many international obligations that Lebanon has and the prime minister assured me that Lebanon would always fulfill [its] international obligations,” Clinton told reporters following a meeting with Mikati at the office of the president of the U.N. Security Council in New York.

She also vowed that the U.S. would continue providing assistance to the Lebanese Army.

Mikati told The Daily Star that the U.S. administration was “understanding” and aware of the peculiar nature of Lebanese politics.

“They showed understanding for our situation and the most important thing for them is that Lebanon keeps a neutral stance,” he added, in reference to events in Syria.

Echoing Mikati, Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Jeffrey Feltman said Clinton expressed to the Lebanese prime minister the U.S. administration’s understanding of Lebanon’s “very delicate situation.”

“The secretary reiterated our strong commitment to Lebanon, our understanding that Lebanon is in a very delicate situation and our support for Lebanon’s unity, Lebanon’s stability, and Lebanon’s sovereignty,” said the former U.S. ambassador to Lebanon.

“We also cautioned the prime minister that Lebanon needs to be very, very careful in not getting caught up in the unrest in Syria, in terms of not allowing Lebanon to be a way for Syria to evade sanctions and accountability for the brutality that the Syria government is showing against its people,” he said.

According to a statement circulated by Mikati’s media office, the prime minister informed the U.S. delegation that his government was working on “promoting stability in Lebanon and safeguarding it against the negative repercussions of events in the region.”

The prime minister reiterated that Lebanon cannot be selective in implementing international resolutions and called on the U.S. to continue providing assistance to the Lebanese Army so that it can carry out its missions, especially those related to U.N. Security Council Resolution 1701 which ended the summer 2006 war with Israel.

According to the statement, Clinton told Mikati that while the U.S. was aware of the necessity of continuing assistance to the Lebanese Army, she said armed groups cannot carry out the role of the state or the government, referring to Hezbollah, which Washington considers a terrorist organization.

“In all cases, calls by the Lebanese government to provide assistance to the Lebanese Armed Forces is the right thing to do,” she was quoted as saying. “We would like to continue our assistance to the LAF despite the internal challenges the U.S. is facing because we believe that the LAF is an institution capable of protecting Lebanon’s independence and sovereignty.”

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, whom Mikati met after talks with Clinton, also expressed Russia’s willingness to provide assistance to the Lebanese Army and asked Mikati to inform Russia of the needs of the army.

Lavrov also expressed his country’s support for Lebanon’s sovereignty, adding that Lebanon should be kept isolated from the repercussions of developments in the region.

Mikati also met Arab League Secretary General Nabil al-Arabi in New York Monday and contacted President Michel Sleiman to brief him on the outcome of his meetings in New York.

The prime minister is due to address the U.N. Security Council Tuesday during a session on the Middle East and will later meet with Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.

Mikati urged the international community to accept Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ bid for Palestinian membership of the United Nations during his speech to the Security Council Tuesday.

"The Palestinian spring has begun,” the prime minister said as chair of the Security Council meeting to discuss the Middle East. “[I come here] appealing to the world to recognize the right of the Palestinian people to have an independent state similar to the rest of the world."

Turning to Lebanon, the prime minister said that a comprehensive peace plan between the country and Israel requires the complete withdrawal of Israel from Lebanese territories.

“As for Lebanon, a comprehensive peace plan requires the complete withdrawal from all occupied parts in the south especially in Shebaa farms, Kfarshouba, and the northern part of Ghajar,” Mikati said.

The prime minister reiterated Lebanon’s commitment to U.N. Security Council Resolution 1701 and urged the international community to force Israel to fulfill its obligations under the resolution.

“[Israel should] put an end to its land, air, and sea violations of Lebanon's sovereignty and [we should] move into a stage from complete cessation of hostilities to a comprehensive cease-fire.”

Mikati also said that a comprehensive peace plan for the Middle East should entail Israel’s withdrawal from Syrian and Palestinian territories, adding that the most dangerous threat to peace is the continued presence of Israel on Palestinian land. “The most dangerous thing threatening the future of peace in Palestine is the Israeli violation of international resolutions regarding resettlements, forced immigration, destruction of homes and the occupying of land ... and this peace will not be achieved unless Israel withdraws completely from Syria's Golan Heights.”

Touching upon recent events in Syria the prime minister said Lebanon “would like to reaffirm its commitment toward the unity of [Syria's] territory and people and the security and safety of its people.”

“Lebanon reiterates its commitment to its right to demarcate its maritime borders and right to take advantage of its natural resources in its regional waters and in its special economic zone,” Mikati said, referring to the dispute between Israel over an approximately 860 square kilometers that both countries had laid claims to.

Mikati also reiterated Lebanon’s commitment to international resolutions, in particular the Special Tribunal for Lebanon. Mikati traveled to New York Saturday and met with U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and other officials on his four-day trip to the city.

Meanwhile, officials from across the political spectrum praised Wednesday the spiritual summit, held the day before by Lebanon’s top Christian and Muslim leaders, for its message of coexistence and national unity.

Hezbollah said Dar al-Fatwa’s summit was a success in “form and content.”

“The summit was an important event, a unified message and stance which expressed the national principles of coexistence and the protection of Lebanon,” Hezbollah said.

“In content, its title was national unity … it relies on dialogue and believes in the obligation of liberating the land. It is a summit of solidarity in confronting attempts to spark strife and to permanently settle Palestinian refugees under any pretext,” said the party.

For his part, President Michel Sleiman telephoned Mufti of the Republic Sheikh Mohammad Rashid Qabbani, extending his congratulations on the results of the summit.

Sleiman voiced hope that Qabbani and other religious leaders in Lebanon would continue promoting consensus and coexistence among the Lebanese with further success.

At Tuesday’s summit, leaders highlighted the importance of the deep-rooted and historic presence of Christians in the Levant and also appealed to rival political leaders to avoid violent rhetoric and adopt dialogue as a means to resolve divisive issues.

The leaders also said Lebanon, which is strong in its national unity, the solidarity of its Arab brethren and the respect of the international community, is committed to rejecting the permanent settlement of Palestinian refugees on its territory and upholds their right of return according to U.N. Security Council Resolution 194, the summit’s statement said.

The leaders said that working to liberate Lebanese and Arab lands still under Israeli occupation and liberate Muslim and Christian sacred shrines is “a collective national and Arab duty.”

Beirut MP Ammar Houri, a Future Movement official, saluted the statement, saying it “affirmed principles and was based on the Taif Accord.”

“This is welcomed, as it [the statement] avoided touching on two fundamental issues, the Special Tribunal for Lebanon and [Hezbollah’s] arms, because it was demanded that this summit highlight shared views since it is not a political summit but spiritual alone,” Houri, a lawmaker for Beirut, told a local radio station.

Beirut MP Imad Hout, from Al-Jamaa al-Islamiya, commended the summit’s statement as “very balanced since it stresses coexistence in Lebanon and the importance of dialogue.”

Speaking to Asharq radio station, Hout said that any such meeting between the Lebanese is welcomed in this “critical period, but [it] should be held based on clear principles.”

Zahrani MP Ali Osseiran, from Speaker Nabih Berri’s Development and Liberation bloc, praised the staging of the summit along with its results.

“The meeting … is very important and serves Lebanon’s high interests. We hope that it will lead to practical steps and continue to preserve Lebanon and its vital interests,” Osseiran said in a statement.

On the other hand, the parliamentary Future bloc of former Prime Minister Saad Hariri called Tuesday on President Michel Sleiman and Prime Minister Najib Mikati to translate their oral commitment to financing the U.N.-backed Special Tribunal for Lebanon into action.

A statement issued after the bloc’s meeting referred to speeches and statements made by Sleiman and Mikati at the United Nations in New York in which they reiterated Lebanon’s commitment to U.N. resolutions, including Resolution 1757 that established the STL, which is probing the 2005 assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.

Both Sleiman and Mikati also said that Lebanon cannot be selective in implementing U.N. resolutions. “The bloc considers these stances as an initial step but it is essential that they are translated into action, particularly with regard to the implementation of Lebanon’s commitment to paying its [$32 million] share to funding the international tribunal,” the statement said.

Referring to Hezbollah and its March 8 allies in Mikati’s government which oppose the STL’s funding, it added: “The government, whose prime minister is talking about commitment to U.N. resolutions, includes parties that are still publicly declaring their flagrant hostility to the tribunal.”