Lebanon boycotts talks on Iranian meddling

Lebanese Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil, right, speaks with his Iranian counterpart Mohammad Javad Zarif, in Beirut. (AP)
Updated 12 February 2019
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Lebanon boycotts talks on Iranian meddling

  • Conference will tackle extremism, missile programs, proxy groups

BEIRUT: Lebanon will refuse to attend a Middle East security conference expected to focus on countering Iran’s malign role in the region, Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil said on Monday.

The ministerial talks in Poland begin on Wednesday, jointly hosted by the US and attended by about 80 countries.

The US State Department says the Warsaw conference will address issues such as terrorism, extremism, missile development, maritime trade and security, and threats posed by proxy groups across the region.

Bassil announced Lebanon’s boycott during a visit to Beirut by Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif. 

“Lebanon will not attend the conference in Warsaw because of Israel’s participation and because Lebanon has adopted a policy of disassociation,” he said.

Zarif welcomed the Lebanese decision, and repeated earlier offers of economic and military assistance. 

“Iran is always fully ready to cooperate with Lebanon in all vital and available fields because … this would serve the national interest of the two countries and would not negatively impact any of the parties.” 

Bassil said there was “no embarrassment in any economic cooperation with Iran as long as it is within frameworks that protect Lebanon,” a reference to US economic sanctions on Iran. 

Meanwhile, the two-day conference in Warsaw is also expected to yield an early look at US President Donald Trump’s long-awaited Middle East peace plan.

In addition to Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, the US will be represented in Poland by presidential adviser Jared Kushner, a key driver of the Trump proposals.

Palestinian leaders, suspecting a betrayal, have turned down a US invitation to the talks and called for a boycott by Arab states. 

The leading Palestinian diplomat Saeb Erekat said the Warsaw conference was “an attempt to bypass the Arab Peace Initiative and destroy the Paestinian project.” 

The Palestinians had “not mandated anyone to speak on behalf of Palestine,” he said.

The Palestinian Authority has refused to deal with the Trump administration since December 2017. It believes the aim of the Warsaw conference is to normalize relations between Israel and some Arab countries. 

Normalization is also an element of the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative, but only after Israel returns to its pre-1967 borders.


Erdogan: Turkey’s S-400 missile systems purchase from Russia ‘done deal’

Updated 58 min 28 sec ago
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Erdogan: Turkey’s S-400 missile systems purchase from Russia ‘done deal’

ANKARA: Turkey will not turn back from its deal to buy S-400 missile systems from Russia, President Tayyip Erdogan was quoted as saying on Saturday, a day after an informal deadline Washington set for Ankara to respond to a rival offer passed.
NATO member Turkey has repeatedly said it is committed to buying the Russian missile defense system, despite warnings from the US-led alliance that the S-400s cannot be integrated into the NATO air defense system.
US officials had set an informal deadline of February 15 for Ankara to respond to the rival US offer and have said that if Turkey proceeds with the S-400 purchase, Washington will withdraw its offer to sell a $3.5 billion Raytheon Co. Patriot missile package.
They have also said it would jeopardize Turkey’s purchase of Lockheed Martin Corp. F-35 fighter jets and possibly result in the United States imposing sanctions.
However, speaking to reporters on the flight back from the Russian resort of Sochi, where a three-way summit on Syria between Turkey, Russia and Iran was held, Erdogan said Ankara would press on with the S-400 purchases.
“We made the S-400 deal with Russia, so it out of the question for us to turn back. That’s done,” Erdogan said, according to broadcaster NTV.
He said Turkey was open to purchasing Patriot systems from the United States as long as the deal served Turkey’s interests, but added there were issues on delivery and production that were still being discussed with Washington.
“The US administration views the early delivery issue positively, but they won’t say anything about joint production or a credit. We continue our work based on the promise of the S-400 deliveries in July.”
The formal US offer for Turkey’s purchase of Patriot systems expires at the end of March, US officials have told Reuters, after which a new offer would have to be submitted.
The US asked Turkey to give at least an informal answer on whether it would go ahead with its S-400 purchase by February 15, one US official said.
It was not immediately clear whether Turkey had responded to the US offer.