Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah said on Monday his Shiite group, part of Lebanon’s government, opposed funding a U.N.-backed court investigating the killing of Rafik al-Hariri but said the matter should be discussed in cabinet.
Lebanon has yet to pay its $32 million share of this year’s funding for the court, whose prosecutor indicted four Hezbollah members over Hariri’s 2005 killing. Hezbollah denies any role in the attack and wants Lebanon to cut links to the court.
The Iranian and Syrian-backed group, which says the tribunal is politicized and pursuing an Israeli agenda, toppled the previous government in a dispute over the court, bringing Prime Minister Najib Mikati into office.
But it has softened its tone in recent weeks to avoid a public clash with Mikati who has pledged that Lebanon will meet its international commitments, which include contributions to the court's costs.
“Hezbollah does not agree with this court in any shape or form, and naturally it is against funding the court,” Nasrallah said in a televised interview, according to Reuters.
“But I will not make a battle out of this and... if someone wants to finance the court from his pocket that is his affair. If it is to be financed from the government treasury... then the cabinet or parliament will decide.”
Shiite Hezbollah and its allies would expect a minimum of 15 of the 30 ministers to oppose funding the court, making it impossible to win cabinet approval.
Diplomats say other countries could step in to fill the shortfall if Lebanon does not pay its dues, but Mikati’s government faces considerable Western pressure.
U.S. Ambassador Maura Connelly told Hezbollah's Christian ally Michel Aoun on Monday that Washington expected Lebanon to cooperate with and help fund the tribunal.
“Ambassador Connelly told General Aoun that the U.S. expects Lebanon to meet all of its international obligations, including Lebanon’s obligation to cooperate with and fund the Special Tribunal for Lebanon,” a statement issued by the embassy said, according to AFP.
“She expressed the United States’ concern that a failure by Lebanon to meet its obligations to the tribunal could lead to serious consequences if Lebanon does not meet its international commitments,” the statement added.
Hariri’s killing plunged Lebanon into a series of political crisis that brought the country close to civil war in 2008.