January 9, 2019 / 2:07 PM / in 7 days

Lebanon's Berri urges postponement of Arab Economic Summit, MPs say

FILE PHOTO: Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri gestures at the presidential palace in Baabda, near Beirut, Lebanon November 3, 2016. REUTERS/Mohamed Azakir/File Photo

BEIRUT (Reuters) - Lebanese Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri called on Wednesday for an Arab League economic summit due to take place this month in Beirut to be postponed because Lebanon had failed to agree a new government.

Berri also asserted “again the necessity of having Syria participate in such a summit”, lawmakers from his parliamentary bloc quoted him as saying at a meeting.

The Arab League suspended Syria’s membership seven years ago after the government crackdown on mass protests against President Bashar al-Assad.

Some Arab states, including ones that had backed rebels, are now seeking to reconcile with Assad’s state, which has recovered most of the country with Russian and Iranian help.

Last month, the United Arab Emirates re-opened its embassy in Damascus and Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir became the first Arab head of state to visit since the conflict began. For Syria to be reinstated, the League must reach a consensus.

Egypt’s foreign minister Sameh Shoukry said on Tuesday Damascus must take several steps before it can return to the League, including making political progress in defunct U.N. peace talks.

“When this happens, we can talk about the matter. At this time, there is nothing new qualifying it,” he said.

Assad’s Lebanese allies, including Berri and Iran-backed Hezbollah fighting alongside the Syrian army, have ramped up calls for Syria to join the summit.

The Lebanese presidency seemed to be pressing ahead with plans to host the summit in Beirut, inviting journalists on Wednesday to apply for accreditation in time.

Reporting by Ellen Francis Editing by Robin Pomeroy

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