President Michel Aoun is sending the head of General Security to two Arab Gulf states in a bid to drum up financial support for Lebanon as it grapples with the worst economic crisis in decades, an official source said Sunday.
Maj. Gen. Abbas Ibrahim, the chief of General Security, arrived in Kuwait Sunday afternoon, where he will deliver a message from Aoun to its emir, Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah, the source told Beirut blog post.
“The message deals with bilateral relations and explains the difficult economic and financial situation through which Lebanon is passing. The message hints at requesting financial assistance, given the fact that Kuwait has always supported Lebanon financially during times of crisis,” the source said.
After Kuwait, Ibrahim, who has been assigned previously by Aoun on private missions in Arab countries, will also visit Qatar at a later stage for the same purpose, the source added.
This comes as Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri was quoted as saying this week after meeting with Kuwait’s Ambassador to Lebanon Abdel Aal al-Qenaei that there were “positive signals” about brotherly Arab countries supporting Lebanon to help it out of its crippling economic crisis, seen as the most serious threat to its stability since the 1975-90 Civil War.
Ibrahim’s trips to Kuwait and Qatar come as Beirut’s ties with Arab Gulf states have been strained due to what these states perceive as “Hezbollah’s growing influence” in Lebanon. The strain has prompted Gulf states to dither from supporting Lebanon financially.
A senior United Arab Emirates official said last month that Lebanon was paying the price for deteriorating ties with wealthy Gulf states as it struggles to cope with a deep economic crisis.
Gulf states have long channeled funds into Lebanon’s crumbling economy but they are alarmed by the rising influence of Hezbollah, a powerful group backed by their arch-rival Iran.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said this week that Washington would support Lebanon if it enacted real reforms and did not become an Iranian proxy state. “We are supportive of Lebanon as long as they get the reforms right and they are not a proxy state for Iran,” Pompeo said in a televised news conference this week.
Prime Minister Hassan Diab, who has been shunned by Gulf states, apparently due to Hezbollah’s influence in the government, said during a Cabinet session this week that he was hopeful that brotherly Arab countries would come to Lebanon’s rescue. Diab also said the US was ready to help Lebanon in various fields.
Asked about the results of his meeting Friday with the US Ambassador to Lebanon Dorothy Shea, Diab told reporters after talks with Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdul-Latif Derian at Dar al-Fatwa Saturday: “We discussed several topics and her excellency expressed readiness to assist Lebanon on various issues.”
Diab dismissed reports about the resignation of his government as “fake news.” He stressed that his government, which has been in office barely for seven months, was working hard to reduce the economic burden on Lebanese.
Diab rejected the notion that Lebanon had fallen under Hezbollah’s control. “Lebanon will not be under the control of anyone while I am in this post,” he said.
Meanwhile, the Cabinet is set to meet at Baabda Palace Tuesday to address a host of important issues, including a new batch of appointments to fill vacant posts in the public administration. Also on the agenda are discussions on the economic crisis, measures to confront the alarming surge in the coronavirus cases and following up on talks on the forensic audit of the Central Bank’s books, a source at the presidential palace told Beirut blog post Sunday.
The source said ministers were also expected to decide on the resignation of Alain Bifani, who quit recently as director-general of the Finance Ministry in protest against the government’s failure to halt Lebanon’s economic collapse and implement much needed reforms.
The Cabinet remains split over a forensic audit of the Central Bank’s accounts.
Aoun has told the Cabinet that both forensic and accounting audits of Banque du Liban’s accounts must take place concurrently. The president explained that a forensic audit would reveal the “actual reasons that led to the current financial and monetary situation” and that it would show the “exact figures in the Central Bank’s budget, profit and loss accounts and level of foreign currency reserves.”
But Finance Minister Ghazi Wazni was quoted as objecting to the forensic audit during a Cabinet session last week on the grounds that it would lead to information being leaked to “hostile parties,” a reference to Israel.
Separately, Maronite Patriarch Beshara Boutros al-Rai Sunday reiterated his call for the international community to declare Lebanon’s neutrality toward regional and global conflicts, a sensitive and contentious issue that is likely to cause further political divisions in the crisis-hit country.
Speaking duringSunday’s sermon at the patriarch’s summer residence in the northern town of Diman, Rai also called for the withdrawal of Israeli troops from occupied Lebanese areas in south Lebanon and the implementation of relevant U.N. Security Council resolutions on the Palestinian issue.
“In order to protect Lebanon and its message from the dangers of the fast-moving political and military developments in the region and in order to avoid involvement in the policy of regional and international axes and struggles, prevent external interference in Lebanon’s affairs, and out of keenness on its supreme interest, national unity and civil peace …., and its adherence to the resolutions of international legitimacy and Arab unanimity and the rightful Palestinian cause, and demanding the withdrawal of the Israeli army from Shebaa Farms, the Kfar Shuba hills and the northern part of the village of Ghajar, and the implementation of the relevant resolutions of international legitimacy, I issued the appeal in last Sunday’s sermon to the international community to declare Lebanon’s neutrality for the sake of its own good and the good of all its components,” Rai said.
The patriarch, who has recently become vocal in his harsh criticism of the ruling political elite for failing to resolve the country’s economic and financial crisis, stressed that the Lebanese wanted “bold positions to rescue the country.”
“They want a free state that speaks in the name of the people and returns to them with regard to fateful decisions, rather than a state that abandons its decision-making and sovereignty,” Rai said.
In an indirect jab at Hezbollah, which has been accused by its opponents of influencing the government’s policy and implementing Iran’s agenda in Lebanon, Rai said: “They [Lebanese] do not want any party to unilaterally decide the fate of Lebanon, along with its people, territory, border, identity, [coexistence] formula, system, economy, culture and civilization.”
Jessika Rizk El Maalouf
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