Lebanese foreign minister speaks out

In his interview with An-Nahar, Lebanese Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil said that Hezbollah’s statement regarding Bahrain does not reflect the government’s stance, which rejects any interference in the affairs of foreign countries.

al-monitor Lebanon's Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil speaks during a joint news conference with Iraq's acting Foreign Minister Hussein Shahristani (not pictured) in Baghdad, Aug. 18, 2014.  Photo by REUTERS/Ali Abbas.

Topics covered

syria, refugees, presidential election, michel aoun, lebanon, hezbollah, hassan nasrallah, gebran bassil

Jan 20, 2015

The Arab League foreign ministers' emergency meeting held yesterday [Jan. 16] condemned the statements of Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah, and called upon the government to take a stance to this effect. However, Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil expressed reservation about “Lebanese national unity.”

Why did he take such a stance and how will Lebanon deal with it? What are the prospects of the Christians’ dialogue and the prospects of the presidential elections? Bassil answered all these questions in his interview with An-Nahar the day following his return from Cairo to Beirut.

An-Nahar:  Why did Lebanon express reservations about the statement of the Arab foreign ministers emergency meeting?

Bassil:   The statement that was made with regard to Bahrain does not reflect the position and the policy of the Lebanese government nor that of the political party I represent. Moreover, Lebanon’s implicit position does not differ from that of the Arab states in their statement regarding noninterference in the affairs of Bahrain. However, the statement that was made was against Lebanon or a certain Lebanese party, which I certainly rejected and expressed my reservations about it. We objected not because we wanted to interfere in the affairs of Bahrain, but because we respect and understand its request of any interference. However, what we are saying is that this issue with Bahrain and all Arab countries is dealt with within the Lebanese government, without [the need for] the Arab League to issue a statement. It is worth noting that the [Arab League] statement was issued in contradiction with the principles of the Arab League and its charter, but we did not want to raise this point, since we do not want to cause problems with any Arab state. We did not want the Arab State to fail in terms of its form since we understand its true content, and because of Lebanon’s policy of noninterference in the affairs of other countries. So it was necessary for us to take this position and to clarify it, regardless of everything else.

An-Nahar: What is the government's position regarding Nasrallah’s statements? How much do they affect the Lebanese people and their interests?

Bassil: It is true that it is our responsibility to protect the Lebanese and their interests who are working in Bahrain and other Arab countries. It is also true that they benefit the country where they are located and Lebanon benefits [from them] as well; the countries where they work also make profits and that is why they need them. This is the importance of natural and brotherly relations between countries — knowing that both sides benefit from this. This is why we are keen to preserve the Arab relations in the interest of Lebanon and all Arab countries. We, as well as other Arab states, should not take any measures as these will negatively affect both sides.

We should not forget the great Lebanese contributions to the prosperity and development of Arab countries, and we should remember the Arab states’ positive contributions for Lebanon, while keeping in mind the Lebanese working in Arab countries. Since this is the official Lebanese position, the Lebanese people should not be punished for a position chosen by one Lebanese group, just as Islam and Muslims should not be punished for what a group of extremists and terrorists chose to do. We should look at the matter from all angles, from a logical and objective point of view. We should also acknowledge that there are certain Lebanese, ministers included, who speak about other Arab and non-Arab countries, criticize their regimes and call them criminals, and these countries also object to this matter. The intervention in Syria was made by two sides, as well as the interference in other countries’ affairs. However, the Lebanese position rejects intervention. whatever the party or the country involved, since Lebanon does not get involved in the affairs of foreign countries. Since we object to all foreign interference in our internal affairs, we cannot intervene in the affairs of any foreign country.

An-Nahar: Nasrallah reiterated Hezbollah’s intervention in Syria, while it is party to the current government; you expressed the [government’s] opposition to the interference in foreign countries. How do you explain this [contradiction]?

Bassil: I'm talking about the position of the Lebanese government, and not that of Hezbollah or the stance taken by the Future Movement, nor how both parties implement their positions in Syria or elsewhere. A Lebanese minister described a Lebanese party and a regional country as criminals, and this state came asking us for explanations. Do I support this? No, I don’t. These violations, which are met with reactions, are made by certain parties from the government or directly by ministers or parties represented in the government. These [the violations] have taken this dimension with Bahrain, because the latter and the GCC [Gulf Cooperation Council] put it forward at the Arab League, and I understand that. As a representative of foreign policy, I hope all parties would refrain from getting involved in foreign countries, because we will bear all the consequences of matters we are not responsible for. There are also certain parties and Arab countries which are not respecting the Arab League’s charter and are intervening in the affairs of other Arab countries. Yesterday [Jan. 16], all countries condemned this matter. Let’s hope from now on, that Arab countries will stop interfering in each others’ affairs.

An-Nahar: The Kuwaiti foreign minister hoped that there will be a [Lebanese] president of the republic to attend the Arab summit in March. What is stopping this from happening?

Bassil: The lack of respect for the founding standards of the Lebanese [National] Pact. When all the internal parties respect the essence of our constitution, our pact and our partnership, all obstacles will cease to exist.

An-Nahar: To what extent can the Free Patriotic Movement bear the responsibility of disabling the quorum to elect the only Christian president in Arab countries?

Bassil: Forever. An act to stop a [violation] should not accuse those seeking to stop this [violation], through wrongful acts; rather it should accuse [and reveal] those who committed the violation in the first place. This is why we do not feel guilty, because the people responsible are the ones who are not respecting the pact’s principles.

An-Nahar: Does the achievement of this pact mean Gen. Michel Aoun becoming president?

Bassil: Forget the name. In all our proposals we mentioned: "the first who represents Christians," or "the second," so as to eliminate doubts that [we] are talking about Aoun. Aoun may be elected today, and another one will be elected tomorrow. If we apply this rule based on the concepts of democracy, it would be for the benefit of the country and Christians, and not one person alone. If this rule is not respected, all the Lebanese and Christians will have to pay for it and the same applies to all other constitutional positions. We either apply the concept of equality on the basis of participation or we don’t.

An-Nahar: Have you asked about the Arab aid promised to us but never delivered?

Bassil: I ask about it every day. Countries are not able to support other peoples for many years. Syrians have been displaced as a result of wrong policies, and they are paying the price. The one behind these policies should refrain from further carrying them out, to allow for the return of Syrians to their homeland. Or he should be the one supporting them, as Lebanon should not be the only one paying for these mistakes. This is why aid will not come. We have been saying this for three years now as a government, and today, as a foreign minister, I say it with utmost certainty. We will not receive enough aid to support the displaced Syrians and even if we do, it would not be enough to make up for 1% of Lebanon’s losses. The Arab countries and the international community should assume their responsibilities. At the foreign ministers meeting, we asked the Arab community to bear more responsibilities in the issue of terrorism.

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