ROME/BEIRUT: The Saudi foreign minister said Hezbollah must disarm for Lebanon to survive and prosper, shortly before Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil and Prime Minister Saad Hariri were set to meet in Paris.
“Lebanon has been hijacked by Hezbollah and will only survive or prosper if you disarm Hezbollah,” the kingdom’s Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir said during a conference in Italy.
Jubeir said the “Iranians established Hezbollah, a terrorist organization in Lebanon to serve Iranian interests, not Lebanese interests.”
He added that Iran uses Hezbollah as a proxy in Syria, Iraq, Bahrain and Yemen while “Hezbollah uses Lebanese banks to launder money and Lebanese ports to smuggle drugs. That’s how they finance themselves.”
Responding to Jubeir, Association of Lebanese Banks head Joseph Torbey told local station MTV that international authorities consider Lebanon to be a top country in terms of banking sector supervision. “We have gained international credibility because of the dissociation of our banks from Hezbollah's activities,” Torbey said shortly after Jubeir’s speech.
Meanwhile, Jubeir advocated a firmer international stance against “this terrorist organization if we want to give Lebanon a fighting chance of a better, more prosperous future.”
Speaking about Hariri’s shock resignation announced Nov. 4 from Riyadh then put on hold upon his return to Lebanon on Nov. 21, Jubeir said, “What became clear to them [Hezbollah] is that Mr. Hariri is by far the largest political personality in Lebanon and they need to give him space in order to pursue his policies.”
“We are hoping that this would be the case and that is why he suspended his resignation,” the Saudi official added.
Separately, Hariri and Bassil were set to meet in Paris to put the final touches on a new agreement that would see the Lebanese premier formally withdraw his resignation. “They are working on a solution and the agreement is almost complete,” a source close to Hariri told The Daily Star.
The source said Hariri would be in Beirut Monday, “when he will meet with President Michel Aoun and Speaker Nabih Berri to prepare for a Cabinet session on Thursday.”
The source said the session would “most likely be held at the Baabda Palace,” and not at the Grand Serail.
Local Lebanese media reported that Bassil and Hariri would meet with French President Emmanuel Macron to brief him on the final deal. “The points on the agreement are widely known,” the source noted. The agreement calls on all Lebanese parties, particularly Hezbollah, to comply with the policy of dissociation, commit to the 1989 Taif Accord and abide by the policy of noninterference in the internal affairs of other Arab countries. It also presses Hezbollah to stop its combative rhetoric against Saudi Arabia, and for the Future Movement and its allies to stop their media campaigns against Syria and Iran, a political source previously told The Daily Star.
For his part, Hezbollah’s deputy chief Sheikh Naim Qassem praised Aoun for not falling for “conspiracy theories.” He lauded Aoun’s for saying Hezbollah was a resistance to Israeli terrorism.
Qassem voiced his side’s support for the return of the government to work, reaffirming “the national partnership that [elected] a president, government and new electoral law.”
Referring to the consultations Aoun held last week with heads of parliamentary blocs to reach a consensus on major issues in the new deal, Qassem said, “We are completely satisfied with the results of the consultations conducted by President [Aoun], which proved that the Lebanese want this government to return ... in order to continue their lives in a stable manner.”
Also Friday, Interior Minister Nouhad Machnouk met with Berri before saying that the “statement which is expected to be released by Cabinet will have answers to the questions posed by [Hariri] in regards to the Taif Accord, dissociation policy and Lebanese relations with Arab nations.”
Machnouk said the path out of the current political crisis would be determined in the next few days, while denying any truth to rumors that there might be any Cabinet reshuffling prior to the parliamentary elections. “We are ready for parliamentary elections as scheduled ... I believe all this talk is not serious,” he said of rumors of plans to replace ministers.
LF chief Samir Geagea weighed in on this topic, rejecting reports that Lebanese Forces’ ministers would be replaced. “There is no will to change LF ministers, except from those who are targeting us because it is their greatest dream [to marginalize our party],” Geagea was quoted as saying to the Central News Agency.
In his interview with the agency, Geagea said the only way a minister could be changed was according to the Constitution, whereby two-thirds of ministers would need to vote on a replacement.
Touching on the agreement being hashed out between Lebanese officials and political parties, Geagea welcomed the talks “which renew the government consensus towards the ‘true’ policy of dissociation ... by pulling out of all regional crises.” He added that information from those close to Aoun and Hariri indicated that Hezbollah was serious about adopting the policy of dissociation. “However, the final assessment will come down to the consensus when it’s announced,” he said.
Recent widely publicized reports have pointed to a growing gap between Geagea and Hariri which the LF leader said had no basis. “The relationship is strategic between [Future Movement and LF]. It passed through a foggy time during Hariri’s sojourn in Saudi Arabia after some [made false claims], we don’t know why,” the CNA reported.
Geagea said communication is ongoing between the two sides and “the coming days will witness important meetings,” including one between himself and Hariri.