Hariri meets Pope Fran­cis, vows sta­bil­ity

The Daily Star (Lebanon) - - FRONT PAGE - By Hus­sein Dakroub

Prime Min­is­ter Saad Hariri vowed Fri­day to main­tain sta­bil­ity in Le­banon and con­sen­sus among ri­val fac­tions to shield the coun­try from the re­ver­ber­a­tions of re­gional tur­moil. He spoke af­ter meet­ing with Pope Fran­cis in the Vat­i­can and sep­a­rately with Ma­ronite Pa­tri­arch Be­shara Rai in Rome.

Hariri’s re­marks co­in­cided with a tough speech by U.S. Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump against Iran in which he ac­cused Tehran of sup­port­ing global ter­ror­ism.

“We must main­tain sta­bil­ity in Le­banon. We must main­tain con­sen­sus be­cause this is in Le­banon’s in­ter­est,” Hariri told re­porters af­ter meet­ing Rai late Fri­day night. “Main­tain­ing this con­sen­sus and sta­bil­ity in Le­banon is what counts.”

He dis­missed ru­mors about the fate of his gov­ern­ment. “The gov­ern­ment will stay in of­fice,” he said.

Asked to com­ment on Trump’s hos­tile speech against Iran, Hariri said: “Le­banon is a very small coun­try. My duty as head of Le­banon’s gov­ern­ment is to spare it any dan­ger. This is an Amer­i­can at­ti­tude to­ward Iran and Le­banon has noth­ing to do with it.”

Ear­lier in the day, Hariri said af­ter meet­ing with the pope that safe zones in Syria were the key to the repa­tri­a­tion of Syr­ian refugees in Le­banon to their home­land.

The Syr­ian refugee cri­sis and its se­cu­rity and eco­nomic im­pact on Le­banon’s sta­bil­ity fig­ured high in Hariri’s talks with the pope. The talks also cov­ered re­gional de­vel­op­ments and re­li­gious tol­er­ance.

Hariri, ac­com­pa­nied by his wife, Lara, and chil­dren Hos­sam, Lula and Ab­del-Aziz, ar­rived in Rome Thurs­day night on an of­fi­cial visit.

The prime min­is­ter said the pope would work to as­sist Le­banon in cop­ing with the host­ing over 1 mil­lion Syr­ian refugees whose pres­ence is strain­ing the coun­try’s weak in­fra­struc­ture and strug­gling econ­omy.

“We talked about this is­sue [of the refugee cri­sis] and the Vat­i­can has a re­spon­si­bil­ity in this re­gard, and the pope will work on this. But what is es­sen­tial for me and for the dis­placed, is that no one is pre­vent­ing any dis­placed from re­turn­ing to Syria to­day,” Hariri told re­porters. “The right way for their re­turn to their coun­try should be found and there must be safe ar­eas in Syria for the dis­placed to be con­vinced to re­turn safely to their coun­try and to these ar­eas. In this way, we would have se­cured the re­turn of the dis­placed to Syria.”

Hariri re­it­er­ated his op­po­si­tion to forc­ing the Syr­ian refugees to re­turn home. “The talk about forc­ing them to re­turn is out of the ques­tion, un­nat­u­ral and in­hu­mane,” he said. “But we in Le­banon must pro­tect the Le­banese cit­i­zen, by ap­ply­ing Le­banese laws that pre­serve his jobs .”

Fol­low­ing a 30-minute meet­ing with Hariri, the pope re­ceived Hariri’s fam­ily and mem­bers of the ac­com­pa­ny­ing del­e­ga­tion. Hariri of­fered the pope a sil­ver cross from the Byzan­tine pe­riod, while the pon­tiff pre­sented him with an icon from

the 19th cen­tury, a state­ment from the pre­mier’s me­dia of­fice said. Hariri then headed to the of­fice of the Vat­i­can Sec­re­tary of State, Mon­signor Pi­etro Parolin, for an hour­long meet­ing, dur­ing which they dis­cussed the sit­u­a­tion in Le­banon and the im­pact of the dis­placed Syr­i­ans.

De­scrib­ing his meet­ing with the pope as “very good,” Hariri said the pon­tiff un­der­lined the im­por­tance of in­ter-faith di­a­logue. “We in Le­banon do not just love di­a­logue but live this di­a­logue. His ho­li­ness stressed the im­por­tance of di­a­logue, and the need to work for it and to live this kind of shared life be­tween Mus­lims and Chris­tians,” Hariri said. “This is what some coun­tries in the Arab world are miss­ing, but we are for­tu­nate in Le­banon be­cause we live this model of co­ex­is­tence.”

He said he in­vited the pope to visit Le­banon. “He re­ally wants to come and hope­fully we will see him soon in Le­banon. This will be in Le­banon’s in­ter­ests, and in the in­ter­ests of Mus­lims and Chris­tians and the re­gion. His ho­li­ness un­der­stands the sit­u­a­tion in Le­banon,” Hariri said. He added that he also met with the Vat­i­can sec­re­tary of state with whom he talked about lo­cal and re­gional de­vel­op­ments.

Asked what he heard from the pope, Hariri said: “We heard from him that Le­banon is im­por­tant to him and co­ex­is­tence in Le­banon is an ex­am­ple for the whole re­gion, and must be pre­served ... His ho­li­ness went to Egypt to con­firm the im­por­tance of di­a­logue, es­pe­cially be­tween Mus­lims and Chris­tians. His fun­da­men­tal mes­sage is a mes­sage of peace and kind­ness.”

Hariri praised the “un­der­stand­ing” reached among the ri­val Le­banese fac­tions that led to the elec­tion of Pres­i­dent Michel Aoun in Oc­to­ber last year and to his re­turn to the pre­mier­ship. “It is this un­der­stand­ing that saved Le­banon and that can lead the coun­try to safety and peace,” he said.

Mean­while, Aoun Fri­day marked the Oct. 13, 1990, an­niver­sary at Baabda Palace from which he was evicted by Syr­ian troops af­ter re­fus­ing to step down and for op­pos­ing the 1989 Taif Ac­cord that ended the 1975-90 Civil War.

Speak­ing to vis­i­tors at Baabda Palace, Aoun said that his re­volt against the Taif Ac­cord was not to gain pop­u­lar­ity, but to lay the foun­da­tions for a state.

“A state that does not en­joy sovereignty, in­de­pen­dence and free­dom can­not build it­self by it­self, ”Aoun said, adding that with his elec­tion as pres­i­dent, the time is ripe to re­store the rights of the Ma­ronite com­mu­nity.

Aoun’s com­ments came on the an­niver­sary of the Oct. 13, 1990, events when Syr­ian war­planes bombed Baabda Palace where Aoun was shel­ter­ing in a bunker with his fam­ily, hav­ing re­fused to step down.

As a re­sult of the heavy Syr­ian bom­bard­ment, Aoun, who was then the Army com­man­der, fled to the French Em­bassy be­fore the Syr­ian army reached the palace. He was later ex­iled to France in 1991, where he spent the next 14 years be­fore re­turn­ing to Le­banon in May 2005.

Speak­ing on the same oc­ca­sion, FPM leader and For­eign Min­is­ter Ge­bran Bas­sil told a rally in the town of Jounieh Fri­day night: “Oct. 13 was a dream of free­dom, sovereignty and in­de­pen­dence that came true with the elim­i­na­tion of Syr­ian tute­lage, Is­rael’s with­drawal [from south Le­banon], and the crush­ing of Daesh (ISIS) ter­ror­ism.” He said his party re­jected re­set­tle­ment of Pales­tinian or Syr­ian refugees in Le­banon be­cause it runs con­trary to in­de­pen­dence.

Hariri, ac­com­pa­nied by his wife, Lara, and chil­dren Hos­sam, Lula and Ab­del-Aziz, ar­rived in Rome Thurs­day night.

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