Lebanese Bassil Withholds Letter to Admit Damascus Into Arab League - Political Source

Published January 17th, 2019 - 09:35 GMT
Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil (Twitter)
Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil (Twitter)

Lebanon’s foreign minister has decided to withhold a letter calling for Damascus to be readmitted to the Arab League ahead of this weekend’s economic summit, a senior political source said Wednesday.

Caretaker Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil had prepared and signed the letter, directed to Arab League Secretary-General Ahmed Aboul Gheit, asking for an extraordinary meeting of member states to lift the suspension of Syria.

Bassil was hoping to have the country reinstated in the league in time for the Arab Economic Social Development summit in Beirut, the source said, but not all Lebanese political factions are ready to take such a step.

“After he [Bassil] consulted with other Lebanese officials, he faced some opposition, and decided to hold off on the letter in order to avoid any more internal conflicts,” the source said.

 

The three parties currently vehemently opposed to re-establishing ties with President Bashar Assad’s government are Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri’s Future Movement, the Lebanese Forces and the Progressive Socialist Party.

The caretaker foreign minister was unable to garner a unified stance on the country’s status, especially from one of the main parties mentioned, according to the source.

In the letter, Bassil calls for Syria to be welcomed back into the Arab League because its absence is “a loss to the region.”

He goes on to say that it is “unacceptable” for political, regional and international solutions to be discussed about an Arab member state without it being present.

“It’s time for Syria to be back after the [United Arab Emirates] reopened its embassy [in Damascus], Bahrain is about to and Mauritania and Sudan’s leaders all went [to the country]. This doesn’t happen without a green light from the Gulf,” the source said.

Though Bassil did not publish his letter, he is set to raise the issue with each Arab foreign minister over the weekend in one-on-one discussions.

Asked whether Bassil had spoken with Arab counterparts before making his decision, the source said Egypt had opposed him releasing the letter, without referencing other countries’ representatives.

However, it is worth noting that Syrian security services chief Ali Mamlouk met with Egyptian officials for talks in Cairo in late December.

But, although Lebanon’s caretaker foreign minister ultimately landed on his decision so as not to go against the will of some Lebanese parties, the source added that “in a matter of weeks, all sides will agree.”

Bassil wants as much Lebanese political backing for this decision as possible, “and it’s getting there - albeit slowly,” the source said.

As for the reconstruction in Syria, he had discussed the role his country might play during a recent visit to Beirut by a senior U.S. diplomat.

Lebanon fears that those of its investors taking part in its neighbor’s reconstruction would be sanctioned.

“But Lebanon has been the most harmed because of the Syrian war, and now that other countries are going to benefit from it’s reconstruction, and not us, it’s not fair,” the source said.

During this week’s talks with Hale, the American undersecretary of state for political affairs, Bassil called for waivers to sanctions for Lebanese people looking to invest in Syria.

The U.S. government’s Caesar Syria Civilian Protection Act of 2018 is designed to deny the regime of Assad “and its proxies access to the international financial system.”

According to the White House, the act facilitates the “continued use of economic sanctions and visa restrictions to hold accountable members of the Assad regime.”

Hale reportedly told the Lebanese side not to make much out of the UAE’s decision to reopen its embassy in Damascus.

 

This article has been adapted from its original source.


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