Saturday, May 15, 2021


The President of the Council of Ministers Saad Hariri said that he heard from the US administration its support for the Lebanese army, pointing out that the US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo renewed during his meeting with him yesterday his country's support for Lebanon politically and economically and the US keenness to continue to work on resolving the land and sea borders definition issue. He added that the US assistance to the Lebanese army continues and "we are negotiating the financial and economic assistance".

Hariri's stances came during a discussion with Arab correspondents in Washington after his meeting with Pompeo. He described the relation between Lebanon and the United States as very important especially in terms of the assistance it is giving whether in the displaced file or the Lebanese army and the security forces.

He said: "We also seek to develop this relationship on the basis that there will be investments by US companies in Lebanon, whether in the field of oil, gas, electricity or others, and we are working on the issue of land and sea borders, so that we can begin negotiations in a way that is comfortable to us. They have remarks on Lebanon that everyone knows and that are linked to Hezbollah. There are sanctions threatening Lebanon. But it is my duty as prime minister to spare the Lebanese state these sanctions and to avoid any impact on the Lebanese economy. In this sense, we are keen to maintain continuous contact with the US administration. These meetings were also an occasion to talk about what is happening in the region, whether in the Gulf countries or in Syria, and we exchanged views on these matters."

On the US sanctions against Hezbollah, Hariri said: "We cannot change the view of the American administration regarding these sanctions, but what we are trying to do is to spare Lebanon any consequences in this regard."

He added: "In my opinion these sanctions are not useful, but they will certainly be tough on everything related to Iran, those who help it and communicate with it. We explained to them our point of view that Lebanon should be spared the consequences of these sanctions, and I think our message has been well received."

As to whether the sanctions will affect Lebanese banks or financial institutions, Hariri said: "I heard this from the media, but everyone knows that the Americans issue their sanctions lists without any prior notification to the Lebanese state. There may be several queries about a specific institution or another, but I am sure that there is nothing tangible yet."

He added: "There was a precedent with the Lebanese Canadian Bank and we dealt with it as necessary, but there is too much intimidation in this subject. In fact I heard praise from all the officials I met in the United States about the policy of the Central Bank and its Governor Riad Salame, but if there are any observations, we know how to deal with them."

As for the possibility of the sanctions targeting Hezbollah allies, Hariri said: "This talk takes place in the congress and last year there was an attempt to prepare such a text, but I don't think we will reach this point."

About the position of the US administration regarding the performance of the Lebanese government, especially on the issue of Hezbollah missile factories, Hariri said: "This issue happened in the past and is happening now. There is a discussion with the US administration and internally, but I do not want to go into details. We are trying to find the best way to avoid putting Lebanon in danger. It is not our role to be the police for the Israelis. If we look at UNSCR 1701, we find that if there is a breach by Lebanon, in return the Israeli side violates the Lebanese airspace hundreds of times a day. There must be equilibrium in this issue. We in Lebanon are working seriously, according to 1701, to move from the cessation of hostilities to ceasefire. For this to happen, a number of items must be applied, part of which relates to us, and the other part relates to them. But until now we don't see any implementation from their side. The most important thing is to get to start negotiations on the maritime borders, especially since it is very important for Lebanon economically in terms of gas and oil. This issue is vital and important to us and perhaps to them too."

In response to a question about setting a date in September, Hariri said: "We are holding serious talks, and we made a lot of progress on several issues, and now we must reach a result."

He added: "We have been working on this for a long time, and even Speaker Nabih Berri said two weeks ago that we reached the end. Now we are finishing some things, and we must take a decision in this context."

About who will lead the negotiations after David Satterfield, Hariri said: "We don't know who will lead the negotiations after Satterfield on the US side, but what is important is that the mechanism that will be developed be under the auspices of the United Nations. The negotiations in this context will be based on ending the status quo at the maritime borders, and there will be discussions in which the American and the UN will take part, and they will not be direct, to solve these issues."

He noted that "the demarcation of the border will be at the maritime and land levels, especially since there are some places on which Lebanon, as well as the Israelis, has reservations, so the negotiations should take place in a parallel way". He hoped that the pace to start talks would accelerate, although it is not known whether there will be an agreement on the final solution.

He said: "As far as we know through the Americans, the Israelis are ready to enter into negotiations and they want to end this file because it is economically important to them. It is even more important to us."

With regard to the alliance between Israel, Cyprus and Greece on the subject of oil, and Lebanon's position on this, he said: "We spoke to Cyprus and we have our interests that we will not give up, nor will they. There has been talk about this issue, but so far this alliance does not exist, because the Turks oppose it, and the Cypriots have not fully made their mind on it."

Asked if the United States discussed with him the issue of the use of the Southern Suburb as a media space for the Houthis, he said: "No one discussed with me the issue of the Houthis. Their voice is heard in the United States and they talk to the media."

About what is required from the Lebanese government regarding Hezbollah, he said: "We have to deal strictly with any person or institution on the list of sanctions in order to protect our banks."

Asked if there is an American request to tighten the procedures at the ports to prevent smuggling so that Hezbollah does not escape sanctions, Hariri said: "There is smuggling of goods. In the 2020 budget, we will put scanners on land and sea ports, not because the Americans asked for this, but because we have a policy to stop smuggling, since our economyis very much affected. There are illegal crossings that will be closed, and any smuggling that may take place through the airport or land paths will be controlled by the scanners. There is a draft project in this regard with the Minister of Finance that will be submitted to the Council of Ministers."

Asked whether he heard any criticism of the Lebanese army's position in the south, Hariri said: "I never heard any criticism on this subject. On the contrary, I heard all support for the Lebanese army. Even Secretary of State Mike Pompeo's statement is clear on this issue. Everyone knows how the Americans view Hezbollah, but he asserted his country's political and economic support to Lebanon through CEDRE Conference, the international institutions and the implementation of the reforms that we pledged. He also stressed the United States' keenness to continue work on resolving the issue of land and sea borders definition. The US assistance to the military continues and we are now negotiating the financial and economic assistance."

He added: "There is a scheme to damage the Lebanese economy through intimidation about US sanctions and the suspension of aid, as if this weakens Hezbollah, but I believe that strengthening state institutions is the only way to achieve the interests of all the Lebanese."

About the participation of American companies in the implementation of CEDRE projects, Hariri said: "On the issue of electricity, for example, there is a certain number of big companies including Siemens, GE and Mitsubishi and we already have GE power stations and we will establish new ones and they are interested in participating. We also urged American companies to participate in the oil tenders, especially since all the geological studies confirm a great possibility that we have oil."

On the issue of UNIFIL he said: "They have remarks but this will be discussed in the United Nations and things are moving normally."

Whether he heard any American stance about the deal of the century, Hariri said: "Our position on the deal of the century is well known. Lebanon did not go to Bahrain and is extremely sensitive about this issue, especially since our Constitution prohibits resettlement. Our approach to this issue is absolute refusal."

About the Americans view of the obstacles facing the Lebanese government work, Hariri said: "Unfortunately, we are or own enemies. While we need to work 24 hours a day to run projects and implement CEDRE and the McKinsey Plan, we are creating political problems and disrupting the country. There is no doubt that any country, and not just the United States, will be disappointed."

As for the message of Hezbollah's Secretary General to the Iranian Foreign Minister, and whether it was a veiled letter against him during his presence in the United States, he said: "I didn't feel that I am targeted because of my presence in the United States. Hezbollah's support to Iran is clear and our friendship with the United States, the Gulf countries and the entire world is clear and we don't hide it. We believe that this relation helps and supports Lebanon, while they see it otherwise. We know that we will not agree on the regional issue because Hezbollah has its regional stance and they in turn know my stance."

Asked if the US administration spoke to him about the government's position on Hezbollah, he said: "These are the aspirations of some politicians carried out by the Lebanese media, but when everyone reads what Pompeo said, they will know that Lebanon is supported, although there is criticism of Hezbollah, which is not new."

As for the talk about security threat against anti-Hezbollah figures, especially the leader of the Progressive Socialist Party Walid Jumblatt, Hariri said: "Whoever attacks Walid Jumblatt would be attacking me personally and Speaker Berri. We proved this regarding what happened in Qabrshmoun, and not because we do not want to prosecute those who committed this crime, on the contrary, we want to prosecute the perpetrator.

To say that Walid Jumblatt is physically targeted is just talk. Unfortunately, the incident became a political problem more than it was supposed to be. No one is trying to evade justice which should be the ultimate reference. But if there is political targeting of Walid Jumblatt, he has allies like Speaker Berri, the Lebanese Forces, me and others. But I do not think that he is targeted and whoever thinks so wants to take the country to a civil war."

Whether there is pressure on the judiciary in Lebanon, he said: "We have problems in the judiciary, this is undeniable. But we also have honest judges who do not allow anyone to interfere in any decision they take. Yes, there are points of weakness and this is because we spent eleven years fighting each other instead of thinking about the country. We remained three years without a President, and when we elected a President two years ago we started the process of restoring the institutions. The vacuum produced calamities and the solution needs time."

On the other hand, Hariri noted that the issue of the displaced and their return to their country was discussed, and the return requires several steps from the Syrian regime, first of all the general amnesty.

About Lebanon's relation with the Gulf states in general and Saudi Arabia in particular, he said: "Today, we are working with Saudi Arabia to achieve 23 joint economic agreements, and work is also underway with the UAE. Therefore, the relationship between us has returned to what it was before and maybe better, and there are continued contacts with Saudi Arabia and the Gulf on the important issues."

Hariri noted that everyone is aware of the seriousness of the economic situation, but the recent political problem has weakened the overall situation. But now everyone's focus is on the economic situation. He said: "Hezbollah voted for the first time in favor of a budget. In the coming weeks, everyone will see very important economic decisions in the country."--PM Saad Hariri's Press office

Source: National News Agency