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UN-Iran sanctions: resolution throws Lebanon's "national unity" cabinet into disarray.

Lebanon's so-called "national unity" government has dramatically failed in its first test of unity on a major foreign issue: A UN draft resolution to impose tough sanctions on Iran over its nuclear program. This automatically prompts the pressing question: What will happen when other deeply divisive issues are faced? Such major issues confronting Lebanon include: the missile arsenal of Hizbullah and whether the group should be disarmed, the future of the country's sectarian power-sharing system, if the voting age should be lowered, if expatriates should be given the right to vote abroad and should civil marriage be allowed. With the failure of the cabinet to agree on whether to vote for sanctions on Iran at the UN, what will happen to these other issues when they are brought up for discussion inside the cabinet?

The UN Security Council on June 9 passed Resolution 1929, which aims to persuade Tehran to curb its suspect nuclear program by widening military and financial sanctions. A total of 12 states voted in favor. Turkey and Brazil voted against the resolution, with Lebanon abstaining from voting. Lebanon's abstention was apparently aimed at averting an external diplomatic row with the United States and its Western allies which strongly supported harsh sanctions on Iran, and an internal clash with the powerful Iranian-backed Hizbullah and its allies which wanted Lebanon to reject the sanctions motion.

The 30-member cabinet, which met under President Michel Suleiman on June 9, was sharply split over what stance it should take on the U.S.-led draft resolution to impose sanctions on Iran. After a lengthy meeting, 14 ministers from the Western-backed March 14 bloc voted for Lebanon to abstain from voting on the sanctions resolution, while another 14 from Hizbullah and its allies backed by the president's ministers voted for opposing the sanctions resolution. With the cabinet split and unable to decide on the sanctions resolution, Lebanon's representative at the United Nations Nawaf Salam was informed to abstain from voting at the Security Council.

"A Cabinet Split Revives Political Confrontation Lines," screamed the front-page banner headline of Beirut's pro-Syrian leftist newspaper AS SAFIR on June 10. The AN NAHAR newspaper reported on June 10 that the March 14 ministers were displeased with the Lebanese state's inability to take a decision on the draft sanctions resolution, something that embarrassed Lebanon's UN representative.


Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri was the first to express his displeasure with the cabinet's failure to agree on a united. "Lebanon's stance will not change anything as long as there are 12 states that support the sanctions," AN NAHAR quoted Hariri as saying on June 10. "We are a country that has interests with the international community. We have the issue of the renewal of UNIFIL's mandate in the summer. We have friendly states that help us and support our issues at international forums. We cannot take a stance against the Security Council's trend because this will weaken our position abroad," Hariri was quoted as saying.

Hariri, however, later sought to play down any possible fallout from the Iran sanctions resolution. AN NAHAR on Friday (June 11) quoted Hariri as saying on the sidelines of his participation in the Turkish-Arab Forum in Istanbul that he ruled out any negative repercussions to Lebanon's abstention from voting on the Iran sanctions resolution.

Hizbullah Critical

While the cabinet's abstention decision won praise from politicians from the anti-Syrian March 14 coalition, it was criticized by Hizbullah and its allies. Hizbullah's cabinet member, Minister of Administrative Development Mohammed Fneish, said the cabinet should have rejected the sanctions resolution. "Our position is very clear. We wished [the cabinet] had taken a clear position in rejecting injustice and aggressive bias against Iran," AS SAFIR newspaper quoted Fneish as saying June 11. He added that Iran was punished with UN sanctions because it supported Hizbullah's resistance against Israel. Former Prime Minister Omar Karami, a Hizbullah ally, criticized on June 10 the cabinet's abstention decision which, he said, amounted to supporting Israel against Iran. Lebanon's newspapers, which reflect the views of factions on both sides of the political spectrum, were also divided over the cabinet decision

Commenting on Lebanon's abstention from voting on the Iran sanctions resolution, AS SAFIR said in a front-page report on June 10, "Lebanon was divided against itself and its fragile reconciliation (accord) was shattered at an historic moment that was supposed to provide an opportunity to adopt a collective national position on its supposed firm principles. Instead, the official Lebanese performance in dealing with the Security Council experiment was marked by confusion and betrayal." By abstaining from voting on the resolution to impose sanctions on Iran, the paper, which is close to Hizbullah, said, "Lebanon has failed awfully in this experiment."

Weak and Gray Position

"Half of the cabinet decided to adopt a weak and gray position in dealing with an issue very clear in its justness that requires non-neutrality," AS SAFIR said. "Half of the cabinet decided to ignore 200 Israeli nuclear warheads stored next to us in occupied Palestine and to comply with the double standards adopted by the United States and the Security Council in dealing with the nuclear issue," it added. "Half of the cabinet decided not to take into account that the source of a real and firm danger is the Israeli entity and that there is a common enemy that requires Beirut to stand on Tehran's side in isolation of any other calculations or tactics," AS SAFIR said. It added that there are many reasons that call on Lebanon to vote against the sanctions resolution "especially since Iran has contributed much towards the rebuilding (of infrastructure) destroyed by Israel (during the 2006 war) ... not to mention its massive support for the resistance (Hizbullah)."

In contrast, Ali Hamadeh, a political analyst with AN NAHAR newspaper, praised the cabinet's abstention. "Lebanon cannot but abstain from (voting) at the Security Council on the sanctions resolution against Iran," Hamadeh wrote in his column on June 10. He went on to say that Lebanon was not required to vote against sanctions just because Turkey voted no. Hamadeh, an outspoken critic of Iran, Syria and Hizbullah, said now that the sanctions have been approved by the Security Council, "Iran should realize that the UN sanctions regime, which is being toughened every now and then, is a long and hard tunnel that could end up in undermining and toppling the (Iranian) regime unless the Islamic Republic returns to reason."

Political Blunder

Talal Salman, publisher of AS SAFIR newspaper, criticized the government's abstention decision as "a grave political blunder" for which Lebanon will pay the price. "The government was split by a wrong decision yesterday (June 9), during voting on an American resolution that was readied in advance to impose new sanctions on a friendly state, Iran. This abstention, in the absence of national consensus, inflicted an unforgivable insult to national dignity, Lebanon's vital interests and its position in the heart of the Arab nation," Salman wrote in a front-page editorial on June 10.

"It is a disgraceful position that Lebanon should have avoided. Averting internal divisions by abstaining from voting has deprived us of internal unity, but did not gain us the respect of the outside world," he said. "It is a grave political blunder, for which all of Lebanon will pay the price as a result of those who were rash in involving Lebanon in it," Salman added. Instead of abstaining, Salman said that Lebanon should have joined Turkey and Brazil in rejecting the sanctions resolution.

"Indeed, Lebanon should have preceded Turkey and Brazil in voting against the imposition of more sanctions on Iran, which stood on its side and helped in reconstruction after the devastation caused by the (2006) Israeli war," Salman said. He added that the Lebanese factions, which are afraid of the U.S. administration's fury if Lebanon votes against the sanctions resolution, should be aware that "this cowardly position will leave dangerous effects on the national reconciliation process." "The condition for the survival of this government is 'consensus,' which supposedly seeks to avoid a voting that will destroy this fragile formula with its delicate balance," Salman said, referring to the "national unity" government that was formed in November after a consensus was reached by rival factions.
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Title Annotation:LEBANON-REPORT
Publication:The Weekly Middle East Reporter (Beirut, Lebanon)
Date:Jun 12, 2010
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