Lebanon presidential nominee temporarily steps away from IMF role

Jihad Azour attends an interview with Reuters in Dubai on May 2, 2023. (Reuters)
Short Url
Updated 08 June 2023

Lebanon presidential nominee temporarily steps away from IMF role

  • Azour, who served as Lebanon's finance minister from 2005 to 2008, has yet to officially announce a presidential bid
  • Lebanon, mired in a crippling economic crisis since late 2019, has been without a president for more than seven months

BEIRUT: International Monetary Fund official Jihad Azour, who has been nominated for the long-vacant Lebanese presidency, has “temporarily relinquished” his responsibilities at the lender, an official at the body said Thursday.
“In order to avoid any perception of conflict of interest, the director of the Middle East and Central Asia department has temporarily relinquished his responsibilities at the IMF,” said the organization’s director of strategic communications Julie Kozack, referring to Azour.
“He is on leave,” she added.
Azour, who served as Lebanon’s finance minister from 2005 to 2008, has yet to officially announce a presidential bid.
Lebanon, mired in a crippling economic crisis since late 2019, has been without a president for more than seven months, and has been run by a caretaker government since May last year.
The international community has urged Lebanese officials to avoid a prolonged presidential vacuum and enact key reforms required to unlock much-needed IMF loans.
Lawmakers have made 11 failed attempts to elect a new head of state, as bitter divisions prevent any single candidate from garnering enough support.
Parliament speaker Nabih Berri has scheduled a new vote on the presidency for next week.
On Sunday, a group of 32 Christian and independent legislators endorsed Azour after weeks of negotiations.
By convention, Lebanon’s presidency goes to a Maronite Christian, the premiership is reserved for a Sunni Muslim and the post of parliament speaker goes to a Shiite Muslim.
The Iran-backed Shiite Hezbollah movement, which holds huge sway over political life in Lebanon, has instead endorsed the pro-Syria Sleiman Frangieh.
On Thursday, Hezbollah’s parliamentary bloc renewed its support for Frangieh, saying in a statement that it considered him “a natural candidate who is reassuring for a large segment of Lebanon.”
The Shiite movement’s key Christian ally, the Free Patriotic Movement, has said it would support Azour.
French President Emmanuel Macron this week named his former foreign minister Jean-Yves Le Drian as his personal envoy for Lebanon, in a new bid to end the country’s political crisis.
Last month, the United States urged Lebanese politicians to elect a new president “to unite the country” and swiftly enact reforms.
“Lebanon’s leaders must not put their personal interests and ambitions above the interests of their country and people,” State Department spokesman Matthew Miller said.

GCC, UK urge Iraq to complete demarcation of borders with Kuwait

Updated 7 sec ago

GCC, UK urge Iraq to complete demarcation of borders with Kuwait

DUBAI: The foreign ministers of the Gulf Cooperation Council member states and UK Secretary of State James Cleverly have urged Iraq to complete the demarcation of Kuwaiti-Iraqi maritime borders.

In a joint statement released Friday, the officials urged Iraq to respect international agreements, especially regarding the demarcation of Kuwaiti-Iraq borders.

The statement followed a meeting between Cleverly and GCC Secretary-General James Al-Budawi on the sidelines of the 78th session of the UN General Assembly in New York.

“They underlined the importance of Iraq’s commitment to Kuwait’s sovereignty and territorial integrity,” according to a joint statement published on KUNA news agency.

Tensions have been rising between Kuwait and Iraq after the Iraqi Federal Supreme Court earlier this month ruled an agreement regulating navigation in the Khor Abdullah waterway was unconstitutional. The court said the law that ratified the accord should have been approved by two-thirds of Parliament.

Kuwait’s Deputy Foreign Minister Sheikh Jarrah Jaber Al-Ahmad Al-Sabah met the UN Baron Tariq Ahmad, and EU Deputy Secretary-General Enrique Mora. (KUNA)

Kuwait’s Deputy Foreign Minister Sheikh Jarrah Jaber Al-Ahmad Al-Sabah has discussed with UN officials and Western diplomats the latest Iraqi Supreme Court verdict regarding Khor Abdullah.

Sheikh Jarrah met Thursday the German Minister of State Tobias Lindner, UK Minister of State for the Middle East, North Africa, South Asia and the UN Baron Tariq Ahmad, and EU Deputy Secretary-General Enrique Mora.

The land border between the two was demarcated by the UN in 1993 after Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait, but it did not cover the length of their maritime boundaries, which was left for the two oil producers to resolve.

An agreement between the two nations was reached in 2012 and ratified by each of their legislative bodies in 2013.

Iraqi PM will visit Russia in the next few weeks — statement

Updated 10 min 26 sec ago

Iraqi PM will visit Russia in the next few weeks — statement

BAGHDAD: Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed Shia Al-Sudani will visit Moscow in the next few weeks, an Iraqi foreign ministry statement quoted Foreign Minister Fuad Hussein as saying during a meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York.

Bahrain making progress for human rights, says FM

Updated 23 September 2023

Bahrain making progress for human rights, says FM

  • Bahrain signed the Comprehensive Security Integration and Prosperity Agreement with the US last week
  • Bahraini minister stressed the importance of diplomatic and economic cooperation between countries

NEW YORK CITY: Bahrain has grown immensely in diplomatic cooperation, human rights, tolerance, and social progress, Bahraini Minister of Foreign Affairs Abdullatif Al-Zayani said on Friday.

The minister referenced the signing of the Comprehensive Security Integration and Prosperity Agreement between the US and Bahrain, signed last week, which will enhance coordination between the two countries in defense, security, technology and investment.

Al-Zayani stressed the importance of dialogue and good-neighborliness in the approach to settling international disputes, a peace process supporting an independent Palestinian state, and the solution of conflicts in Yemen, Syria, Afghanistan, Lebanon and Sudan “in a way that preserves the unity, sovereignty and territorial integrity of these countries.”

Al-Zayani also called for the implementation of international conventions “to criminalize religious, sectarian and racial hate speech. We must prevent the misuse of ‘freedoms’ in media and digital platforms for religious contempt or to incite extremism, terrorism and intolerance.”

Cooperation in security, nonproliferation of weapons of mass destruction, cybercrime and international navigation was critical, he added.

On economic cooperation, the minister welcomed the announcement of the India-Middle East-Europe Economic corridor, which was unveiled during the G20 summit in New Delhi this year. The corridor is to connect India with Europe via the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Israel and Greece.

Al-Zayani also praised Saudi Arabia for announcing earlier this month the establishment of a global water organization to be based in Riyadh.

The minister discussed many of his country’s recent strides in ensuring human rights, including the creation of an impartial, independent judiciary supported by international human rights experts, promotion of the freedom of press and media, encouragement of trade unions, and criminal justice and corrections reform.

“The Kingdom of Bahrain is proud of the advancement of women, and her contribution as active partner in the process of comprehensive development. She is a minister, a parliamentarian, a judge and ambassador,” he said, adding that Bahraini women made up 22 percent of the cabinet, 56 percent of the workforce in the government sector, and 34 percent of the diplomatic corps.

Arab officials talk peace prospects at New York MENA Forum

Updated 49 min 23 sec ago

Arab officials talk peace prospects at New York MENA Forum

  • Future of the region in the spotlight amid flurry of UNGA activity
  • Report by co-host SRMG Think calls for MENA to seize opportunity for regional cooperation

NEW YORK CITY: Arab and international officials and energy and finance experts in New York City at the MENA Forum have discussed the latest political and economic trends in the region, including prospects for peace in Yemen, the shifting role of the US and Saudi Arabia’s rapid non-oil growth.

Co-hosted by SRMG Think and the Middle East Institute at the Yale Club on Friday, the forum’s theme was “Unlocking the region’s potential for prosperity, security and a sustainable global future.”

Officials from a range of Gulf and Arab nations spoke at the forum, including Rania Al-Mashat, Egyptian minister of international cooperation; Ayman Safadi, Jordanian deputy PM; Mariam Al-Mheiri, UAE minister for climate change and environment; and Majed Al-Ansari, Qatari adviser to the prime minister and foreign minister.

Energy and finance experts also took part in panels and fireside chats, including Dr. Helima Croft, head of commodity strategy and MENA research at RBC Capital Markets; Francesco La Camera, chief of the International Renewable Energy Agency; Dr. Sara Vakhshouri, SVB Energy founder and president; and Amer Bisat, Blackrock managing director and head of emerging markets.

The US special envoy for Yemen, Tim Lenderking, also discussed the operation to offload oil from the Safer tanker in the Red Sea, as well as his experiences negotiating with the Houthi militia.

Turkiye’s Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Ahmet Yildiz discussed Ankara’s vision for the future.

A common theme at the forum was the de-escalation in tensions in the Middle East in the wake of the Saudi Arabia-Iran rapprochement, and rumors that the Kingdom is considering normalization with Israel.

Lenderking was asked about the potential for peace in Yemen, almost a decade since the country’s conflict began.

He said: “There’s no space in Yemen right now, given the situation that we see for errant approaches from in the region.

“At the end of the day, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Qatar, Bahrain, Oman, they all want to see peace. There may be differences in approach, but they all want to see this conflict ended.

“And I think you can see that in the efforts Saudi Arabia and Oman are exerting to bring this conflict to a close with UN and international support.”

But Lenderking warned of the need for a deal with the Houthi militia, adding that the humanitarian situation was dire and required a resolution through political means.

“You don’t solve the humanitarian situation in Yemen without a political deal, unless you get agreement between the two parties that drives this situation into a formal peace agreement.”

Qatari ministerial adviser, Majed Al-Ansari, in a fireside discussion, spoke about the future of the US-Gulf relationship.

Despite strong US military activity in Qatar and Washington’s presence in the region “not diminishing from a security perspective,” Al-Ansari said there has been “incoherence” in the US’ Middle East policy.

He added: “This has cost the region a lot. But it has also cost the US and its image in the region a lot.

“And this is why you get a lot of questions from your partners in the region now, (saying) ‘Listen, we need guarantees.’

“We need something on paper, because when push comes to shove, we are really not sure if the US will help or not.”

A panel at the forum — featuring Vakhshouri, Croft and La Camera — discussed energy developments in the region as well as the transition toward renewables through investment.

Vakhshouri stressed the role of national priorities in allocating renewables, saying that Saudi Arabia’s “low-cost resources” and “high government investment” favored the adoption of green and blue hydrogen as viable alternative energy sources.

Blackrock’s Amer Bisat, speaking one-on-one with SRMG Think senior adviser, Hazar Caracalla, hailed the Gulf’s transition away from oil dependency.

He said: “The non-oil sector in the GCC, particularly in Saudi, is 80 percent above where it used to be in 2014. Even in per capita terms, it is 50 percent above where it was around nine years ago.”

Bahrain landmarks go green to honor 93rd Saudi National Day

Updated 23 September 2023

Bahrain landmarks go green to honor 93rd Saudi National Day

MANAMA: Bahrain landmarks and vital facilities lit up in green color and hoisted Saudi Arabia’s national flag in a nod to the Kingdom’s 93rd National Day, which is observed on September 23.

Bahraini citizens also joined in the celebration by decorating their cars with the Saudi flag, and the country’s governorates holding special events, programs and celebrations, state news outlet Bahrain News Agency reported.

The festivities held across the country reflected the depth of the solid deep-rooted fraternal Bahraini-Saudi relations, the report added.