Lebanon: Mikati Says Parties Rejecting Cabinet Meetings Better Elect a President

Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati (Asharq Al-Awsat)
Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati (Asharq Al-Awsat)

Lebanon: Mikati Says Parties Rejecting Cabinet Meetings Better Elect a President

Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati (Asharq Al-Awsat)
Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati (Asharq Al-Awsat)

Lebanon’s caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati hailed the latest development in the Saudi-Iranian relations, stressing that Lebanon supports any "consensual" course in the region mainly that Saudi Arabia is a party to it.

The Prime Minister also defended Lebanon's cabinet meetings amid the vacuum at the top state post, and amid accusations questioning its constitutionality.

In remarks to Asharq Al-Awsat on Saturday, Mikati said that the latest developments pose an “opportunity to breathe in the region and look forward,” noting that the new turn in the Saudi-Iran ties will reflect positively in the region.

Although Mikati does not consider that the Saudi-Iranian rapprochement would affect Lebanon’s problematic file of electing a president, he acknowledges a “political realism” that less tension abroad brings appeasement in Lebanon.

Supporting the remarks of Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan regarding the election of a new head of state, Mikati told Asharq Al-Awsat: “The Lebanese must not look abroad for solutions, we must carry out our duties in electing a president, building institutions, and embarking on solving our many and major problems.”

“The crisis in Lebanon has been accumulating over many years…Implementing the required reforms must be expedited before the crisis escalates further and reaches the point of no return,” he warned.

On the reforms that Lebanon has to enact in order to unlock billions of dollars in loans from the International Monetary Fund, he said: “Because we were aware of the seriousness of the situation, we rushed to take measures to negotiate with the International Monetary Fund, being the main step available to us and to motivate countries to support Lebanon.

“We signed the initial agreement with the IMF, and we are still seeking, in cooperation with the Parliament, to pass the required reform laws in preparation for signing the final agreement,” he added.

Lebanon has yet to enact most of the reforms needed to access billions of dollars in loans from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to help itself out of its economic crisis.

The PM said that the government is looking for immediate and essential solutions to stop the collapse and ensure the continuity of the work of the state and institutions, “but these measures are not the final solution,” said Mikati. He stressed the need to expedite the election of a new president that paves way for a solution and recovery.

Lebanon has no choice but to carry out the required reforms and cooperate with the International Monetary Fund, in order to garner international support, “this is what I noticed during all my meetings abroad. There will be no aid for Lebanon before reforms are implemented”.

Regarding rejections of the Free Patriotic Movement -headed by Jebran Bassil the son-in-law of former president Michel Aoun- which argues that the government meetings are unconstitutional, Mikati affirmed that the government will continue to hold its sessions amid a presidential vacuum in order to run the important matters in the country.

During its meetings, "the government addresses urgent matters and priority files because they affect people's health, livelihood and rights. As for the objectors, they are required to seek the election of a president as soon as possible, and then all this controversy will cease.”

Voicing hope that the vacuum at the top state post ends, he urged all political components in Lebanon to agree on a new president as soon as possible “because the country will continue to suffer from a basic structural defect without a president.”

On some calls encouraging a change to Lebanon’s system including the calls for federalism, Mikati said that any development of the system requires appropriate political conditions which Lebanon lacks at the moment.

“Adherence to the Taef Accord and work to implement it in its entirety without any partiality is needed at present. Until further notice, this agreement will remain the best framework for Lebanon,” he stressed.

“Any development or modernization of the system requires appropriate political conditions. I do not believe that the current political crisis and the difficult economic and financial conditions constitute a suitable atmosphere for discussing the amendment of the system,” he concluded.

Fakhri Karim: I Conveyed Talabani’s Advice to Assad on Terrorists

Fakhri Karim (Asharq Al-Awsat)
Fakhri Karim (Asharq Al-Awsat)

Fakhri Karim: I Conveyed Talabani’s Advice to Assad on Terrorists

Fakhri Karim (Asharq Al-Awsat)
Fakhri Karim (Asharq Al-Awsat)

The late Iraqi President, Jalal Talabani, excelled at delivering messages subtly. In private meetings, he spoke more freely than in public statements or interviews. His chief advisor, Fakhri Karim, often joined these discussions.

Luncheons were lavish, showing Talabani's respect for different opinions, though he rarely followed doctors’ advice.

Talabani believed that Iranian leaders were smart and hoped they wouldn’t try to control Baghdad from Tehran, citing the failed attempt to manage Beirut from Damascus.

He noted that Iraq’s independent spirit makes it hard for the country to follow the US, Iran, or Türkiye. Talabani also admitted giving refuge to 80 Iraqi officers who had fought against Iran, after they were targeted by certain groups.

Talabani praised Syria’s late President Hafez al-Assad for his invaluable support, providing accommodation and passports.

Speaking to Asharq Al-Awsat, Karim revealed he had warned President Bashar al-Assad, on behalf of Talabani, that militants allowed into Iraq to fight US forces might later turn against Syria.

This, Karim noted, did happen.

After the Israeli invasion of Beirut in 1982, Karim relocated to Damascus. There, he expanded his Al-Mada organization, focusing on publishing, translation, and organizing book fairs, alongside his political activities.

This allowed him to build relationships with top civilian and military officials.

In 2000, after Bashar al-Assad came to power, he met with Karim.

“I felt Assad was eager to listen, especially given my connections with many intellectuals,” recalled Karim.

“I told him dissenting voices exist but are mostly positive. You talk about modernization and renewal; this is a chance for some openness, even in elections,” Karim said he told Assad.

“Do you think anyone could really compete with you, given your position as the Baath Party's leader with all its resources?” Karim questioned.

Karim then discussed the situation of Syrian Kurds with Assad, noting that many lack identification papers, even basic travel documents. He also mentioned seeing historic Kurdish areas in the Khabur region with their names changed to Arabic, which causes sensitivities.

“I am not satisfied with this situation. Rest assured, this issue is on my agenda, and you will hear positive news about it,” Karim cited Assad as saying at the time.

In a later meeting, after the change in Iraq, Karim met Assad several times.

On one occasion, Karim recalls conveying Talabani’s greetings and concerns about armed fighters moving into Iraq and the dangers this posed to both Iraq and possibly Syria.

“We have deployed large forces to secure the borders, but what can we do? There are tribes and smugglers,” Assad complained about the situation.

“I told President Assad that as Fakhri Karim, I couldn’t share with the Americans what I know. I assured him that terrorists enter Iraq from a specific location I’m familiar with, not from all borders,” Karim recounted to Asharq Al-Awsat.

“I also noted that Syria tightly controls its airspace, shooting down any foreign aircraft,” he added.

Assad then responded to Karim and said: “We’re prepared, let us know what we can do.”

In reality, Damascus was worried because there were reports suggesting that Syria’s Baath regime could be the next target for the US army at its borders. Additionally, Damascus was concerned about the sectarian divisions—Shiite, Sunni, and Kurdish—in dealing with Iraq and the potential impact on Syria.

Repairing Kurdish Relations

Karim has spent years working on repairing the relationship between Kurdish leaders Talabani and Masoud Barzani.

This history began with the split that gave rise to the ‘Patriotic Union of Kurdistan’ from the ‘Kurdistan Democratic Party.’

Despite bloody conflicts and external meddling, Karim believes Kurdish leaders unify in the face of danger to their people and region, a pattern he expects to continue.

Karim believes that the Kurdish leadership, symbolized by Masoud Barzani and Jalal Talabani, made a big mistake at the beginning by focusing only on regional issues, ignoring Baghdad’s affairs.

He thinks they should have aimed for a federal democratic system that respects citizenship rights.

Karim pointed out that without a unified Iraq, the region’s rights would be uncertain. He also criticized the Shiite-Kurdish alliance, which he sees as odd.

Additionally, he mentioned mistakes in failing to unify regional institutions and increasing corruption, with party interests often trumping competence in appointments.

Asked about the personal bond between Talabani and Barzani, Karim said: “Both have moved past their tough history, but they haven’t done enough for the future.”

“I want to highlight an act by Barzani that shows his character. When Talabani was sick, Barzani made it clear to anyone thinking of harming Talabani or his family that there would be consequences,” he revealed.

“This isn’t hearsay, it’s firsthand,” affirmed Karim.

“Barzani also refused to discuss the presidency or a successor during Talabani’s illness. I personally organized a gathering for Talabani’s family, where Barzani reassured them, ‘I’m here for you, I’m family.’ His words moved everyone, showing a strong emotional connection,” he added.

When asked about Barzani’s character, Karim said: “He's been a long-time friend, and our relationship has been politically aligned and personally warm from the start.”

“I see him as a loyal friend, and he's shown that loyalty on multiple occasions. He’s smart, decisive, and listens carefully, often changing his mind after thorough consideration,” he noted.

“Once Barzani commits to something, he finds it hard to go back on his word. There was a moment during negotiations with Saddam Hussein when he stood firm despite my advice to reconsider,” recalled Karim.

Regarding the aftermath of the independence referendum, Karim believes that the negative turn in the political landscape began during Nouri al-Maliki’s tenure.

Al-Maliki’s attempts to shift alliances and his refusal to compromise exacerbated tensions.

The referendum itself wasn’t the problem; rather, it was exploited by some to punish the Kurdistan Region.

However, Karim emphasized that holding referendums is a citizen’s right, and the purpose of the Kurdistan referendum was to affirm this right, not to declare independence.