BEIRUT: Prime Minister Najib Mikati said Thursday that Hezbollah chief Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah did not rule out funding the Special Tribunal for Lebanon in his recent interview and added that the country will maintain a neutral position on unrest in neighboring Syria.
“I did not conclude that [Nasrallah] said ‘No’ to the tribunal,” Mikati told the BBC in an interview on the eve of his visit to the U.K.
Mikati acknowledged Hezbollah held reservations over the U.N.-backed court, which in July indicted four members of the resistance group in the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, but said that “Nasrallah left the issue to the constitutional institutions to play their part.”
“I will bring this issue up at the appropriate time with these constitutional institutions,” he said.
Lebanon has so far failed to pay its share of the STL’s 2011 budget, worth some $32 million.
Hezbollah has outright rejected cooperation with the court, let alone funding it, insisting that the tribunal is part of a “U.S.-Israeli project” aimed at targeting the resistance group and sowing strife in the country.
During an interview on Oct. 24 with Hezbollah’s Al-Manar television station, Nasrallah said he would leave the issue of funding the court to the Cabinet, stressing that ministers should seek consensus on the matter and if not then put it to a vote.
Mikati has repeatedly said he would abide by international resolutions, including those related to the tribunal.
He reiterated this stance during the interview Thursday, replying when asked whether he would sign off on the funding that: “My position is constant, and that is complete cooperation with international decisions, including resolution 1757 that concerns the court and its funding. This is my position as prime minister of Lebanon and there are constitutional institutions that we need to refer to.”
Mikati, who will meet British Prime Minister David Cameron during his first official visit to the United Kingdom since his election as prime minister, said he was not surprised by Nasrallah’s position regarding the Hague-based court.
“I was not surprised by any word he said, because I don’t expect Hezbollah, after the accusation was made against it, to go along with the court.”
However, Mikati added, “I am confident that [Hezbollah] and [Nasrallah] are concerned with Lebanon and the interests of the Lebanese.”
Asked about Nasrallah’s suggestion that individuals that support the court fund it themselves, Mikati asked: “When someone says: ‘why not pay from your own pocket,’ does this not mean an acceptance to the principle of funding?”
“We have not arrived at this stage yet,” he added.
During his interview with BBC to be aired at 7.30 p.m. Beirut time, Mikati skirted around the issue of growing calls on Lebanon to protect Syrians in Lebanon.
“We are not a side in this affair – neither with or against, as I have said previously. Whether Lebanon is with the Syrian regime or against it, we cannot do anything. Over the years there have been calls that [Lebanon] be neutral. Today we have taken this position, so how can it be regarded as not positive, as some claim,” Mikati said when asked about what steps had been taken with regards to requests that Lebanon protect Syrians in the country.
The United States has urged Lebanon to meet its international obligations to protect Syrian refugees, including opposition members, fleeing into Lebanon from unrest in their country.
Thousands of Syrians have fled into Lebanon since protests began there in mid-March, escaping a violent crackdown by Damascus, which the United Nations says has led to death of 3,000, people, mostly civilians. Syrian authorities deny targeting civilians and have blamed “armed gangs” for the deaths.
“I do not want to pass my country a poisoned chalice and the important thing in these difficult circumstances is to keep ourselves out of anything that harms Lebanon’s interests. We are working with this goal of protecting our nation, both its people and territory, and for peace,” Mikati said.