Free Patriotic Movement chief Jebran Bassil on Sunday linked the latest U.S. sanctions that were imposed on him to his alliance with Hizbullah, as he vowed that the FPM will confront any “elimination” attempt in the cabinet formation process.
“Between sanctions targeting me and the protection of our domestic peace, the choice was not difficult,” Bassil said at a press conference.
“The truth is that the path with America has always been difficult, but we have to walk it through and bear injustice so that we remain free in our country and to protect Lebanon from divisions and strife, while insisting that we will remain friends for the American people, no matter how much their administration aggrieves us,” he added.
He also said that U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had asked him to “abandon and confront Hizbullah.”
“I explained to him that that would lead to isolating Shiites, which would lead to a domestic strife,” Bassil added.
“I have been informed by the President that a senior U.S. official had called him stressing it was necessary for the FPM to end its relation with Hizbullah immediately and that he had been asked to inform me of the urgency of the issue. The next day I was personally informed that I should immediately fulfill four demands or face U.S. sanctions within four days,” the FPM chief went on to say.
He added: “We do not betray any ally or friend or someone whom we have an understanding with. We did not betray al-Mustaqbal nor the Lebanese Forces, so betraying Hizbullah is out of the question. We do not abandon people without a reason, and certainly not Hizbullah, because we deal with each other with honesty and ethics.”
Describing the sanctions as a “crime” committed against him by the Trump administration on the day it “confirmed its loss of the elections,” Bassil congratulated U.S. President-elect Joe Biden and his vice president-elect, expressing readiness to “improve the relations with the new administration.”
Bassil added that he would be directing lawyers to appeal the decision and demand “moral and material compensation” in a U.S. court.
He spoke after his father-in-law, President Michel Aoun, on Saturday said he had requested evidence of Bassil’s alleged wrongdoings.
The U.S. Treasury said it had targeted Bassil “for his role in corruption in Lebanon,” alleging in particular that he “steered Lebanese government funds to individuals close to him through a group of front companies” as energy minister.
Bassil has been a minister in all cabinets from 2008 to 2019, most recently foreign minister in the government that stepped down under pressure from massive street protests last fall. Critics have claimed he was behind many shady state dealings, especially during his time at the head of the energy ministry between 2009 and 2014. Bassil has repeatedly denied the accusations.
Turning to the issue of the new government, Bassil said the U.S. sanctions should be “a reason to speed up the cabinet’s formation.”
“If the foreign intentions are aimed at obstruction or sabotage, our response should not be intransigence due to the sanctions,” the FPM chief added.
He however warned that the FPM “will not remain silent” if someone in the country sought to “continue the foreign scheme” by “singling out” the FPM and attempting it to “eliminate” it from the new government.
“Does someone really believe that he alone can name all ministers in the government, or at least all the Christian ministers, under the excuse of specialty and the dire economic situation?” Bassil added, in an apparent jab at PM-designate Saad Hariri.
As for the issue of rotating the ministerial portfolios among sects, Bassil said: “Rotating all portfolios except for finance would be an acknowledgment that the Shiite sect has a right to retain the finance portfolio. Some portfolios should not be rotated, and I’m not referring to a specific one, or else rotation should apply to everyone as has been our stance.”
He also cautioned that the new government will be delayed unless “clear and unified standards are adopted” in its formation.
“This would be a waste of time and a waste of the French initiative, the same as they wasted Dr. Mustafa Adib’s government,” Bassil warned.