Lebanese press round-up: March 21, 2012

Press round-up for Wednesday, March 21st from the morning edition of Lebanon’s An-Nahar, Al-Akhbar, As-Safir, and Ad-Diyar newspapers.

Note: There is no press round-up on Sundays

  • Opening Titles

Cohen to An-Nahar: No to Lebanon as a gateway for Syria to escape.

Mikati responds to Bassil; the displaced funds today.

  • Local News

The visit of US Under-Secretary of State for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence David Cohen to Lebanon encompassed several avowed and unannounced messages, which expressed a clear threat to Lebanon and stressed [the need] not to cooperate and have financial exchanges with Syria and Iran.

In an interview with An-Nahar, Cohen said that he stressed to the Central Bank and key banking figures “the need for abiding by the maximum level of caution and for not getting carried away into allowing Syria or Iran to exploit Lebanon as a gateway to evade sanctions.”

Cohen reassuringly said that the aim of his visit “is not to exert pressure on Lebanon specifically or on the financial sector in it.” Rather, he said, “what we want is for Lebanon not to be a door or gateway for Syria to escape.”

Parliamentary sources told An-Nahar that today’s parliamentary session will be ordinary and “experimental” with regard to the continuity of legislative action free from maliciousness.

There seemed to be a tacit agreement to embarrass General Michel Aoun who said yesterday: “Patience has its limits, following which we will start talking.”

While Aoun threatened to tell “the story of [power] ships in due time,” PM Najib Mikati expressed surprise at Energy Minister Gebran Bassil’s saying to An-Nahar the day before last that he did not understand what the prime minister wants, saying: “They usually read what is erased, so how come they do not understand something this obvious?”

Mikati indicated that he objects to the ship renting project “because the tender process is fraught with defects. There is no political settlement for something like that, which requires transparency and honesty.”

Ministerial sources told An-Nahar that the oil authority decree will be discussed during today’s session of the Council of Ministers due to the importance of this vital economic project. The sources went on saying that delaying its settlement until now is unacceptable.

Social Affairs Minister Wael Abu Faour warned that the High Relief Committee may have to stop providing aid to the Syrian refugees tomorrow if no credit is endorsed to its benefit.

When asked by An-Nahar about why the settlement of the High Relief Council credit was delayed, Court of Accounts President Judge Aouni Ramadan said that “this formality will be completed Wednesday at 10 a.m.

  • Opening Titles

Cohen asks about “questionable” accounts and commitment to sanctions against Syria.

  • Local News

The talks held by US Under-Secretary of State for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence David Cohen in Beirut focused on the sanctions against Syria and Iran, as well as on bank transfers inside Lebanon.

Cohen did not give any statement following his meetings. However, sources revealed to Al-Akhbar that he addressed during his meetings the transfer of around 231 accounts belonging to 28 depositors from the Central Bank to three Lebanese banks.

Cohen asked why these accounts were not transferred to the competent judicial authorities since “doubts” pertaining to them prompted the Société Générale bank to refuse to transfer them into the assets it bought from the Lebanese-Canadian Bank.

Parliament is to resume its legislative session today back when the last one had ended, i.e. by discussing the proposed law on reducing the prison year to 9 months. A sit-in will be held by prisoners’ families at the same time near the parliament building.

  • Opening Titles

Washington “tests” Lebanon’s commitments.

The “oil authority” is brewing; a batch of appointments soon.

  • Local News

Parliament is inclined to adopt the transportation allowance draft today following tensions, the price of which was paid by former Labor Minister Charbel Nahhas.

Ministerial sources told As-Safir that they also expect parliament to adopt in today’s session the draft on establishing the oil sector management authority, saying that contacts were ongoing yesterday in order to address the final observations [on the draft].

Sources revealed the existence of a “wording” to address some of the reservations expressed by PM Najib Mikati, adding that the next step following the promulgation of the draft establishing the [oil] authority consists of publishing ads in order for candidates to submit their requests.

As-Safir has learned that a bunch of administrative appointments may be issued next week, albeit excluding the presidency of the Higher Judicial Council.

Informed sources told As-Safir that the prospective decisions are important as they will contribute to achieving progress with regard to appointments following a prolonged deadlock.

Speaker Nabih Berri told As-Safir that stalling in the completion of appointments, especially with regard to the oil sector management authority, is neither justified nor acceptable.

As-Safir has learned that the draft law on amending the last paragraph of Article 4 of the 1925 nationality law, which would allow Lebanese women to grant their nationality to their children, is on the agenda of today’s session of the Council of Ministers.

  • Opening Titles

Conflicts start anew between key cabinet components over appointments and oil.

Aoun: All men lie … Patience has its limits and we will exercise accountability.

  • Local News

The introduction to the OTV news bulletin yesterday evening launched a noticeable virulent attack on PM Najib Mikati, saying: “What will the prime minister do after his brother-in-law’s factory, which produces potato chips for children, was raided?”

OTV went on saying that “it turned out the manufactured goods are spoiled and expired,” and accused PM Mikati of hampering the endorsement of power-generating ships and the projects filed by the Free Patriotic Movement.

The appointments issue is currently frozen. Accordingly, there shall be no appointments prior to the appointment of the Higher Judicial Council president following the failure of the settlement based on appointing one of the oldest serving judges.

US Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Jeffrey Feltman said that supporting the Syrian opposition is a “moral duty” for the Lebanese people whom he called upon to take advantage of the upcoming legislative elections in order “to remove the remnants” of Syrian influence in their country.

Feltman said that the 2013 parliamentary elections should represent a chance to continue what the Cedar Revolution started, i.e. to dissociate Lebanon from Assad’s games and from Iran’s influence.