Lebanon looks to hardline eastern Europe approach for Syrian refugees

Syrian refugees prepare to return to Syria from the Lebanese border town of Arsal. Lebanon says it is hosting 1.5 million Syrians. (Reuters file photo)
Updated 27 March 2019

Lebanon looks to hardline eastern Europe approach for Syrian refugees

  • Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil "sympathized" with the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia
  • Lebanon says it is hosting 1.5 million Syrians — around a quarter of its own population

PRAGUE: Lebanon said on Wednesday it wanted to follow the example of eastern EU states that have largely rejected refugees as a way of resolving its own refugee crisis.
Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil sympathized with the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia’s refusal to accept refugee distribution quotas proposed by the EU after the 2015-16 migrant crisis, when more than a million people streamed into Europe, mostly from Syria.
Populist eastern EU leaders including Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, Poland’s powerbroker Jaroslaw Kaczynski and Czech President Milos Zeman, among others, blasted German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s “open door” policy on accepting migrants during that period.
These countries “were acting in their national interest and decided that the redistribution of refugees among European countries is not in their national interest, although they faced EU sanctions for that,” Bassil told reporters in Prague.
“I would like this attitude to be an inspiration for Lebanon, because every state must make national interests its top priority and at this moment Lebanon’s key national interest is the return of Syrian refugees to their homeland,” he added.
Lebanon says it is hosting 1.5 million Syrians — around a quarter of its own population. Less than one million of them are registered with UN refugee agency the UNHCR.
Most of the Syrian refugees in Lebanon live in insecurity and depend on international aid.
The International Monetary Fund has said their presence has led to increased unemployment and a rise in poverty due to greater competition for jobs.
The influx has also put strain on Lebanese water and electrical infrastructure.
Lebanese government officials and politicians have ramped up calls for Syrians to return home, but the United Nations has consistently warned that conditions in the war-ravaged country are not suitable for such returns.
“I would like Prague or Beirut to host a meeting, an initiative of countries seeking to plan and ensure the return of Syrian refugees to their country,” said Bassil.
“This would be immensely useful for both Lebanon and Syria and in general it would be the best solution to the human, humanitarian and political crisis we have right now and which could get worse in the future,” he said.


Iran cries victory after UN rejects US bid to extend arms embargo

Updated 15 August 2020

Iran cries victory after UN rejects US bid to extend arms embargo

  • Only two of the Council’s 15 members voted in favor of the US resolution seeking to extend the embargo
  • The result increases the likelihood that the US will try to unilaterally force a return of UN sanctions

TEHRAN: Iran on Saturday hailed a UN Security Council vote rejecting a US bid to extend an arms embargo on the Islamic republic, saying its foe has “never been so isolated.”
President Hassan Rouhani said the United States had failed to kill off what he called the “half alive” 2015 deal with major powers that gave Iran relief from sanctions in exchange for curbs on its nuclear program.
“The United States failed in this conspiracy with humiliation,” Rouhani told a televised news conference.
“In my opinion, this day will go down in the history of our Iran and in the history of fighting global arrogance.”
Only two of the Council’s 15 members voted in favor of the US resolution seeking to extend the embargo, highlighting the division between Washington and its European allies since President Donald Trump withdrew from the Iran nuclear accord in May 2018.
Washington’s European allies all abstained, and Iran mocked the Trump administration for only winning the support of one other country, the Dominican Republic.
“In the 75 years of United Nations history, America has never been so isolated,” said foreign ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi.
“Despite all the trips, pressure and the hawking, the United States could only mobilize a small country (to vote) with them,” he tweeted.
The result increases the likelihood that the US will try to unilaterally force a return of UN sanctions, which experts say threatens to plunge the Council into one of its worst-ever diplomatic crises.
“The Security Council’s failure to act decisively in defense of international peace and security is inexcusable,” said US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
The embargo on conventional arms is due to expire on October 18 under the terms of a resolution that blessed the Iran nuclear deal, officially known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.
Since Trump pulled out of the JCPOA and slapped unilateral sanctions on Iran under a campaign of “maximum pressure,” Tehran has since taken small but escalating steps away from compliance with the nuclear accord as it presses for sanctions relief.
European allies of the United States — who, along with Russia and China, signed the deal with Iran — have voiced support for extending the 13-year-long conventional arms embargo, saying an expiry threatens stability in the Middle East.
However, their priority is to preserve the JCPOA.
The US text, seen by AFP, effectively called for an indefinite extension of the embargo on Iran, which diplomats said would threaten the nuclear agreement.
Iran says it has the right to self-defense and that a continuation of the ban would mean an end to the nuclear deal.
Pompeo announced that members had failed to back the proposal around 30 minutes before Indonesia, the current president of the Security Council, announced that the official results included two votes against and 11 abstentions.
Russia and China opposed the resolution.
“The result shows again that unilateralism enjoys no support, and bullying will fail,” China’s UN mission tweeted.
Ambassador Gunter Sautter of Germany, which abstained, said “more consultations are needed” to find a solution that is acceptable to all council members.
During a call between Trump and French President Emmanuel Macron, the leaders “discussed the urgent need for UN action to extend the arms embargo on Iran.”
Hours earlier, Russian President Vladimir Putin called on China, France, Russia, Britain, the US, Germany and Iran to convene an emergency video summit to avoid an escalation of tensions in the Gulf.
Washington has threatened to try to force a return of UN sanctions if it is not extended by using a controversial technique called “snapback.”
Pompeo has offered the contested argument that the US remains a “participant” in the nuclear accord as it was listed in the 2015 resolution — and therefore can force a return to sanctions if it sees Iran as being in violation of its terms.
European allies have been skeptical on whether Washington can force sanctions and warn that the attempt may delegitimize the Security Council.
Nevertheless, the US is expected to deliver the snapback letter next week, AFP understands.
Analysts suspect that Washington purposefully put forward a hard-line draft that it knew Council members would not be able to accept.
“The fact is that everybody at the UN believes this (resolution) is just a prelude to a US effort to trigger snapback and sink the Iranian nuclear deal,” Richard Gowan, a UN expert at the International Crisis Group, told AFP.