Two Accounts of Unpublicized Mikati-Nasrallah Meeting

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Nasrallah said that covering the funding of the STL from outside the Cabinet was bothersome to Hezbollah. (Photo: Marwan Bu Haidar)

By: Fidaa Itani

Published Sunday, January 15, 2012

Prime Minister Najib Mikati and Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah met with one another over the New Year holidays. No official statement or photos were released about the meeting, but two different accounts of what took place emerged.

According to one account, Nasrallah was not smiling when he received Mikati, who visited him shortly after two Hezbollah ministers voted in favor of the prime minister’s proposal for a minimum wage increase. This was the same vote that caused serious tension and exposed a flaw in the mechanics of the political process and coordination between Hezbollah and its allies. It also demonstrated Mikati’s ability to attract votes of ministers who belong to what are considered solid blocs within the governing coalition.

Those who know what happened at the meeting speak of a gloomy encounter, where the secretary-general did not even smile at his guest. Nasrallah started the meeting with an intense rebuke by saying “you have betrayed us,” which set the tone for the rest of the discussion.

The prime minister did not offer many objections to his host’s comments. In the past, Mikati could be heard repeatedly heaving praise about Nasrallah before anyone who might relay the compliments to the Hezbollah leader. However, it looks like these days are gone.

Hezbollah’s secretary-general reportedly said that the debate concerning the funding of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL) is done and it a thing of the past. What lies ahead is the renewal of the STL protocol. Nasrallah also reiterated his conviction that the STL is politicized and has American-Israeli goals.

Mikati for his part said that the renewal of the STL protocol is automatic and that the Lebanese government has no say in it. He noted that the STL protocol will be renewed in March without referring it to the Lebanese government, whose opinion will make no difference. The secretary-general rejected what he considered a circumvention of Hezbollah’s position, suggesting that “this time it will not pass.”

Nasrallah said that covering the funding of the STL from outside the Cabinet was bothersome to Hezbollah. He said that the arrangement, which allocates funding for the tribunal from outside the Cabinet’s budget, did not make it any more acceptable by the party.

Some sources say that the meeting ended with a clear statement by Nasrallah regarding the renewal of the STL protocol, implying that “Hezbollah will not be the only one that will be troubled, for the prime minister will be just as unhappy.”

The meeting addressed several other issues. Nasrallah confirmed that Hezbollah and its allies will insist on tackling the related case of false witnesses now more than ever. He also explained that repairing the damage done to the four generals – wrongfully accused by these fraudulent witnesses of assassinating former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri – requires action on the part of the government.

About 10 days prior to the meeting, Mikati had met Nasrallah’s assistant Hussein Khalil and Hezbollah minister Mohammad Fneish. Mikati promised them he would offer an opinion on the issue of the four generals in mid-January.

Nasrallah also indicated that Hezbollah and its allies, particularly Michel Aoun’s Change and Reform bloc, want to focus on programs that seek to address the people’s concerns, adding that the party will be paying close attention to the government’s budget proposal. Nasrallah seemed interested in informing his guest of the party’s priorities for the upcoming period.

At the prime minister’s headquarters, the Grand Serail, a different account of the meeting has been circulating. The prime minister has been describing parts of the meeting to his close associates. Each person heard about a different part of the conversation with Nasrallah, with each account being told in a different way than it was to the previous person.

Mikati’s reported take on the meeting took place at a time when there was controversy over the Cabinet session in which the wage increase was being decided and when Labor Minister Charbel Nahas’s draft law was disregarded in favor of Mikati’s. Also, at this time there was an apparent lack of coordination between the majority parties, particularly between the Free Patriotic Movement, on the one hand, and Hezbollah and the Amal Movement, on the other. The prime minister, however, continued to smile before his visitors and say: “I just met with the secretary-general of Hezbollah not long ago.”

With time, hints alone were no longer enough, and Mikati informed those close to him about the details of the unpublicized meeting. Mikati’s recollection of the meeting is that Nasrallah began by greeting him with a frown and told him: “You have stabbed us in the back. It began when you announced your support for funding the STL in the media.”

According to visitors to the prime minister’s office, here Mikati objected, interrupted his host, and asked him: “Before I did so, I consulted with speaker [of parliament] Nabih Berri. Is Berri acting on his own, without consulting with his allies?"

The secretary-general then reportedly responded: “Of course not.” The two men then laughed and the meeting took a friendly turn. The STL funding issue and everything related to the tribunal was resolved and, as Mikati told sources close to him, the meeting ended amicably.

With these two versions of the story we can be assured of one thing. When the STL protocol comes up for renewal at the beginning of March, the two narratives of the Mikati-Nasrallah meeting will be put to the test. The prime minister will have another go at this issue, and he will probably get what he wants...again.

The views expressed by the author do not necessarily reflect Al-Akhbar's editorial policy.

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

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