Lebanon agreed to transfer funds to the United Nations-backed court probing the 2005 killing of former Premier Rafiq Hariri, Premier Najib Mikati said today, helping avert the collapse of his government.
Mikati said in televised comments that he insisted on paying Lebanon’s share of the court’s costs in order to protect the country and meet its international commitments. The payment was made today, he said.
Mikati, who became premier with the backing of the Shiite Hezbollah movement and its allies, said last week that he would consider resigning if his government failed to agree on the funding for the UN court. A meeting of Mikati’s 30-member Cabinet that was scheduled for today to discuss the funding of the court was postponed prior to the televised speech.
The UN tribunal, which issued warrants on June 30, and requested that Lebanese authorities arrest four people affiliated with Hezbollah, has polarized Lebanon’s political factions. Hezbollah toppled the previous government of Saad Hariri, Rafiq’s son, amid a dispute over the tribunal, and then backed Mikati to take over, though the premier has asserted his independence from the group and pledged to comply with UN resolutions.
Tensions over the investigation have raised the threat of a return to sectarian violence in a country that emerged from a 15-year civil war in 1990. Hezbollah also risks losing one of its key international backers as Syrian President Bashar al-Assad faces a growing internal revolt and international isolation.
Hezbollah had pressed Hariri to halt cooperation with the UN court and end Lebanon’s financing of the tribunal, saying it is unconstitutional, biased and part of a U.S. and Israeli plot to target the group and Syria. Hezbollah’s chief, Hassan Nasrallah, pledged that the group won’t hand over any of its members, and Lebanese authorities have said they were unable to locate the suspects.
Lebanon is obliged to pay 49 percent of the costs of the UN tribunal investigating Hariri’s killing. Various Lebanese politicians and Western countries have signaled that sanctions may be imposed if Lebanon failed to cooperate with the UN court. U.S. Ambassador to Lebanon Maura Connelly warned this month “that a failure by Lebanon to meet its obligations to the tribunal could lead to serious consequences.”