NNA - The President of the Council of Ministers Saad Hariri said that “Lebanon’s relations with the Arab countries are not subject to the mood of some forces, parties and leaders, and the prime minister speaks on behalf of all of Lebanon”. Hariri defended the presidential settlement, noting that the alternative “is going to the unknown, and the country’s economy and stability will pay the price”. But he said that the comments attributed to Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil annoyed him.
He added that “the strength of Sunnis is that they are the guardians of the national partnership, and that the powers of the prime minister are fine, and no one can lay his hand on them”.
Hariri took these stances during a press conference Tuesday evening at the Grand Serail.
He said: “First of all I want to congratulate Nizar Zakka on his release.
I want to pay tribute to the martyrs of the Lebanese army and the Internal security forces, who were fell during the treacherous terrorist operation in Tripoli. Tripoli was protected with the lives of four heroes of the army and the security forces. Their loss is a loss to every house in Tripoli and to every Lebanese family.
A terrorist coming from the dens of terrorism will not change the identity of Tripoli. Tripoli will remain the city of moderation and coexistence, the city that supports the state. It is an opportunity to say that the issue of amnesty is part of the ministerial statement and has to happen. This great city knows how to respond to injustice. This city and the whole North knows who invented Fatah al-Islam, who exported terrorism to Tripoli, and opened the doors for terrorists to get out of prisons and to enter Lebanon and other countries.
All the Lebanese are now familiar with the way I work and know that I do not like disagreements and sectarian disputes. If I wanted to do that, you would have seen me somewhere else and you would have seen the country in another place.
I was raised on protecting the country, on dialogue, coexistence, the culture of reconstruction and work for the welfare of the people; a national culture that sees all Lebanese and works with all Lebanese. But what is happening makes me refuse that anyone outbids on me or on the Future movement.
We do not like problems, disputes or battles, but we cannot remain silent when we see mistakes or unacceptable words that affect dignities and breach red lines, the Constitution and norms. The country cannot be run by bravados, slips of the tongue, that cost us our relations, our economy and our internal stability.
The disputes that you heard were imposed on us and came after a period when I chose to remain patient, silent and calm, to complete the budget with the least cost to the country. Surely, I was very disturbed by many practices and Byzantine discussions. We could have finished the budget in ten sessions instead of nineteen.
It is true that during these two years the country witnessed difficult periods, and made significant achievements in terms of getting the institutions back to work. But let us not forget that we "stopped" the country for nine months to form a government.
The country is always tensed from the political and media disputes, although most parties sit at one table and participate in a national accord government.
We agree on the ministerial statement or the budget, but immediately after that, talk outside the cabinet goes in another direction.
We all had arguments and everyone held the others responsible. Long months were wasted, while the world is waiting for us. These months had a price on the economy, the public debt and investments. Today, you see what is happening…as if most of those who approved the budget in the Council of Ministers are from another political planet and have nothing to do with the government. The ministers who approved the budget in the Council of Ministers go with the deputies of their blocks to object the budget in the Parliament. What are we doing? Are we deceiving the people? What do you want? Do you want to implement CEDRE? Do you want to implement the McKenzie plan? Do you want the Arab brothers to return to Lebanon or not? The economic situation and the world cannot wait.
The budget must be approved, and all the political parties represented in the government committed to this and we must maintain the deficit reached.
This is the first financial reform step that takes place in the country. If we think that we will go to parliament so that the political parties contradict what the government approved, then this would be as if we are saying that we do not want CEDRE or McKenzie. We only want disputes. If this is the case I don’t mind and I can do it in a very good way.
We will work after to approve the 2020 budget. Anyone who has a proposal should kindly present it in the Council of Ministers, and we will be the first to do that because we have more than thirty reform proposals for the 2020 budget.
During the last two weeks, they imposed verbal clashes on us from several fronts. I didn’t want this to happen. I said that we finished the budget, there is a summit and a holiday and the people will rest and enjoy the holiday, but we did the contrary. We finished the budget but did not let anyone enjoy the Eid.
Frankly, the anger among the Sunnis cannot be ignored. It is a real anger and it resulted from practices and political positions from key partners who gave some people the chance to pour gasoline on the fire of anger.
In this respect I want to talk about three issues:
First: Lebanon’s relations with the Arab countries. It must be known to all Lebanese that these relations are not subject to the mood of some forces, parties and leaders. If the first line in the constitution says that Lebanon is an Arab country, it is because Lebanon is an Arab country and a founding member of the Arab League and the priority in its relations is with the Arabs and not any regional axis.
It is also beneficial to recall that the Constitution says that when the prime minister stands on any Arab or international platform, he speaks on behalf of all of Lebanon. I attended the Mecca summit on behalf of Lebanon, I delivered Lebanon’s speech and approved the summit resolutions in the name of Lebanon. My speech and stance at the Mecca summit are the peak of commitment to the ministerial statement, the disassociation policy and the interest of the country, and whoever sees otherwise, should go back to the speech and resolutions, and all the resolutions of the previous Arab summits to see who violates the disassociation.
It is not permissible for any reason to put the Gulf States and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and its leadership in particular in a position of dispute with Lebanon. These countries have achievements in every Lebanese region and thousands of Lebanese people are working in the Gulf States. Time has come to understand that the country’s interest should prevail over our personal or political interests with any country and that our loyalty to Lebanon precedes any loyalty to any other axis.
Second: The political settlement in the country, and the dispute that took place with the Free Patriotic Movement. Frankly, I was very annoyed by the remarks attributed to Minister Gebran Bassil in the Bekaa and the press reports that reiterated them and went very far in interpretation, analysis and conclusions. The best thing that Minister Bassil did was to deny these remarks, but we would have preferred the denial to come immediately after the remarks were made because they had very negative repercussions among the Sunnis in general and the Future movement supporters in particular. They took us to unacceptable places and we heard sectarian remarks and this is not in the culture and education of the Future movement and the supporters of Martyr Premier Rafic Hariri.
Then came the verdict of the military court in the case of Ziad Itani, the terrorist operation in Tripoli, and we saw the actions and heard negative stances that affected the settlement. It is unacceptable to have a judge who launches a campaign against the leadership of the Internal security forces and the Information branch, and is able to overturn his powers as a military prosecutor to become a defense lawyer in a sensitive case. Can anyone tell me what does it mean to file a lawsuit against the leadership of the internal security forces and the information branch? Did he think about filing a lawsuit against an institution because no one can hold him accountable? This is unacceptable and any coverage of it is totally rejected.
I will never accept that anyone insults the security and military institutions. The Lebanese army, the Internal security forces, General security and State security are institutions for the Lebanese state and all the Lebanese and should not be placed in the categories of quotas between sects.
After the military court came the terrorist attack in Tripoli. Suddenly, we heard useless words about the environment that breeds terrorism, with questions asking why you let the terrorist out of prison, how the Information branch interrogated him? They doubted the investigations of the Information branch and wanted to re-investigate the arrest and release of terrorist Abdul Rahman Mabsut.
The military court sentenced him, and he spent his entire sentence. I cannot ignore this although I know that some want to break the settlement no matter what and they do not care if I pay the price or the whole country does. The alternative to the settlement is going to the unknown, and the country’s economy and stability will pay the price of a dispute with the President. There was a lot of talk about the death of the settlement, perhaps because there are people who wish to put an end to stability just to say that they were right and that all that Saad Hariri did was an adventure.
It may be true that it was an adventure; it may be true that it was a decision against the trend, and it is true that we paid a price for it in the elections. But what is true is that the country is still standing and the constitutional institutions are back at work, but most importantly we buried discord and did not lead the country into the Syrian fire. We sacrificed to protect our country and to protect a sect that faces a great conspiracy in more than one Arab and Islamic country.
Third, the role of the Sunnis in Lebanon. When we talk about a national unity formula, we talk about the Taef Accord and the national partnership, and Prime Minister Rafic Hariri participated in drafting it. The essence of our political existence is linked to this partnership, its protection, and refraining from dragging it into civil war. The most important item in the political settlement was the commitment to the Taef Accord. The strength of Sunnis is that they are the guardians of the national partnership, even if one of the partners behaved in a way that harms the partnership. No one should say that the Sunnis are frustrated or weak, because they are the nerve of the country without which there is no country. Some consider today that Saad Hariri is the Sunni representative in the political system, and that the compromise offered concessions to others from the share of the Sunnis. Frankly and directly, I would like to say to all the Lebanese and to the Sunnis in particular that this is the biggest lie against Saad Hariri. The powers of the prime minister are fine, and no one can lay his hand on them. I challenge those who are making this lie to show us where we abandoned the powers and rights of the Sunnis. To all those who are spreading this lie I tell: Do not be the cause of frustration, stop this game. I tell the Future movement not to be dragged into reactions.
It should be clear that we, Dar al- Fatwa and the former Prime Ministers are hand in hand in defending Lebanon and the role of the Sunnis in the national formula. When we protect the country’s dignity and security, prevent the Syrian fire from entering Akkar, Tripoli, Sidon, Beirut, Ersal and Bekaa, protect the country’s Arabism, succeed in holding the CEDRE Conference to save the economic situation, the Rome conference to support the legal security institutions, and the Brussels conference to address the crises of displaced Syrians, and open the door to the largest investment program since the days of Rafic Hariri, we are protecting the historic role of the Sunnis in Lebanon.
I am here to continue the legacy of Premier Rafic Hariri. His legacy is our country, its freedom, dignity and Arabism. He left us three commandments: adherence to moderation, preservation of equality, and state building: the Taef Accord. He taught us to look for solutions, not wars. He taught us how to renew the confidence of the Lebanese and the world in the state. He taught us how Arab brothers are partners in Lebanon’s reconstruction, real national partnership and how to work for a democratic parliamentarian system and not the Republic of the Lebanese sects.
I will meet with the President with this spirit, to speak frankly and to say that mistrust among the Lebanese is the greatest danger on the republic and on coexistence.
I will not lose hope, and I consider the President a guarantee for all of us, a guarantee for political stability and the protection of coexistence. There is no problem that has no solution, but what is important is that no one thinks that he is capable of canceling the other, or thinks that he is capable of being a crowned a king on the throne of the republic. Lebanon is not like that. Lebanon is a message and a formula for coexistence".
Question: You said that President Michel Aoun is a guarantee. How do you describe your relationship with Minister Gebran Bassil?
Hariri: The relationship with the President is a special one. About Minister Bassil, I meant everything I said. The problem today in the country is that each party wants to take the dialogue somewhere else. We want to build a country and a state, to implement projects and to accomplish. The relationship with Minister Bassil is somehow sensible today. As I said, in the end, everything can be solved, if we sit down and discuss it. We do not want to cancel anyone, and we do not want anyone, to cancel us.
Question: Besides the Sunni anger that you spoke about, which resulted from the repercussions of the recent disputes, there was talk of anger within the Future movement from your stances in the recent period, and about a front in the FM against you.
Hariri: The Future movement is a democratic movement, and if anyone wants to open a front against me, he is welcome to do so.
Question: We are noticing an intolerance towards the displaced Syrians. What is your comment on this?
Hariri: I would like to see the Syrian refugees return to their country today before tomorrow. I would like to apply the Lebanese law to them as is the case with every visitor and displaced in Lebanon. We approved in the government a set of jobs that are only allowed for the Lebanese and no other nationality.
The problem of the displaced is felt by all sects, and all Lebanese and we must all work to solve this problem.
We all have to speak with transparency to find solutions. But how can the racist speech benefit us? Will it help 1.5 million Syrian refugees return to their country? No, but it will generate tension and this is what we do not want. I do not want to question the intentions of the political parties regarding the displaced Syrians. We all want the same thing, but there is a certain way to deal with people and talk to them, that makes all the difference.
Question: You said that you are keen on the presidential compromise and that the alternative is to go to the unknown. How will you deal with the disputes?
Hariri: There will be a deep talk with all the political blocs and we must be realistic in the country. We have become masters in missing. What I am saying is that there must be a deep debate on these issues so that each of us can do his job.
It took 19 meetings to approve the budget 19 sessions and after each meeting, the ministers briefed the parliamentary blocs they belong to on what is going on. Will we go through the same argument in Parliament? Do they think that the Lebanese people will wait and forgive us? Or that the economy or the international community or the loans will wait for us?
Question: You made a settlement and sacrifices. Do you regret it, when the partner does not seem to respect the settlement?
Hariri: It is true that it is a sacrifice, but I am 100 percent convinced. Without it, the country would have been without a parliament, a government or a president. Everything we see today is part of the democratic game we are a democratic state and everyone has the right to speak. But this democracy holds us accountable concerning sectarian attitudes and we should be aware of this.
Question: Especially if he represents us abroad?
Hariri: We are talking about internal speech. The stances expressed abroad, we discuss them locally first. We are against any words that cause harm to our relationships, and not only with the Arab countries. Is our problem with them only? Is there anyone who is not upset with us?
Question: On the subject of the Syrian displaced, and after the recent campaigns of demolition of camps, which is to say the least racist, is there a new policy in dealing with the subject?
Hariri: What is happening does not represent the government. If this happened in another country, what would you say? It will distort our image.
Question: Do you feel today that your position is weak in the presidential compromise?
Hariri: My position is not weak, and whoever thinks that I am, I will show him where strength lies. I am not worried about myself or the premiership. I want to build a country. Do we have an economic problem or not? In light of this economic problem, do I have to look at the Future movement first or the country first? If I wanted to think only about the Future movement, most reforms would not have been made, because they are unpopular
Question: When you talked about Ziad Itani, did you hiny that the Free Patriotic Movement exerted pressure on the military court. Do you have the courage to say that there has been interference in this issue?
Hariri: Of course there was interference.
Question: From whom?
Hariri: I do not know whom, but there was interference, which is not normal. Suppose that this issue was not in Lebanon, what would you say?
Question: You are saying that there is interference in the judiciary?
Hariri: Yes, there is interference in the judiciary. No one should cover a mistake. I will not keep silent on this issue. This is a delicate issue and the state made a mistake, and “framed” an innocent person.