Bassil stresses importance of Saudi ties
Minister cites French support as he embarks on diplomatic visits to European leaders
BEIRUT: Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil Tuesday thanked French President Emmanuel Macron for the role his country is playing in the crisis created by the resignation of Prime Minister Saad Hariri.
During his trip to France, Bassil reiterated the importance of a good relationship with Saudi Arabia, but rejected any interference in Lebanon’s domestic affairs.
“We thank Macron for his initiative in regards to the exceptional situation that Lebanon is experiencing,” Bassil said, speaking after meeting with the French president.
Bassil embarked Tuesday on a series of diplomatic meetings in the wake of Hariri’s shock resignation announced Nov. 4 from Riyadh. He went first to Brussels, where he met with European Union foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini.
He then traveled to France where he and Macron held both open and closed-door meetings.
Macron had made an unscheduled visit to Riyadh to meet with Saudi officials over Hariri’s resignation last week.
The Lebanese premier’s unexpected move had sparked uncertainty and speculation on the circumstances surrounding his decision.
The international community responded with calls for his return to Lebanon and underscored the importance of his freedom of movement.
Earlier Tuesday, French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe said Hariri’s surprise exit caused “a period of uncertainty.”
“What’s at stake is Mr. Hariri being able to return home freely to clarify his situation in line with the Lebanese constitution,” he said.
As part of the diplomatic flurry that Hariri’s resignation triggered, French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian is arriving in Riyadh Wednesday to discuss the crisis and is expected to meet with Hariri.
Bassil said he discussed the resignation and its impacts with Macron. Speaking to reporters afterward, Bassil described the current situation in Lebanon as “unnatural.”
“Lebanon would like for its decisions to be taken freely. Lebanon creates its internal and foreign policy with the will of its people and its leaders who are elected by the people,” he said, adding that his country wants to live peacefully with its neighbors and already has its own share of problems.
Bassil noted that the Lebanese are waiting for Hariri to return, as he said he would in an interview aired on Future TV Sunday.
Hariri reiterated this Tuesday in a tweet, saying he would be back in Lebanon within the next few days, but did not specify further.
“The crisis ends with Hariri’s return,” Bassil said, adding that if Hariri doesn’t come back to Lebanon soon, the government may appeal to international law.
“There are problems in the region that are still present and that need to be sorted out,” he said.
“Once Hariri is back in Lebanon he can take any decision he sees as right and possible,” the minister said, noting that France has expressed its readiness to do what is necessary to stand beside Lebanon.
“Lebanon insists on maintaining a good relationship with Saudi Arabia and the bilateral frameworks that would allow us to find a solution to the problem, which is through Hariri’s return,” Bassil said.
Sources from the Foreign Ministry told The Daily Star that Bassil headed to London after his visit to France where he is expected to hold a series of meetings.
The sources added that Bassil will also stop in Rome and the Vatican.
Earlier Tuesday, the EU’s Mogherini called on Hariri to return to Lebanon along with his family.
A statement from the EU said that Mogherini expects Hariri to be back in Lebanon in the coming days.
“Close contacts will continue with Prime Minister Hariri, through the EU’s diplomatic channels … Mogherini expects him and his family to return to Lebanon in the coming days,’ the statement read.
Mogherini emphasized the importance of Lebanese political parties maintaining unity and cooperation in order to avoid any escalation of tensions within Lebanon.
She said the EU will continue with its support for Lebanon and that she agreed with Bassil that Lebanon’s sovereignty should be respected.
The EU highlighted in the statement that there should be no external interference in Lebanon and that the country needs to maintain its separation from regional conflicts.
“Mogherini emphasized that the European Union has strong and long-standing ties with Lebanon, built on friendship, joint work and close cooperation and reaffirmed EU support to Lebanon and Lebanese institutions,” the statement said.
“The stability, unity, integrity and sovereignty of the country are to be preserved,” it added.
Bassil and Mogherini agreed that they will stay in touch to follow up on the situation in Lebanon.
Bassil’s meetings come ahead of an emergency Arab League meeting in Cairo.
Saudi Arabia called for the summit Sunday with the support of Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates. The request was approved by the bloc’s current head, Djibouti.
The emergency meeting on Iran’s “violations” in the region will be the 12th such emergency summit since the organization’s founding in 1945.
According to a memorandum broadcast on Egyptian State News, the meeting, which will bring together 21 Arab states, was requested by Saudi Arabia after a missile was fired at Riyadh on Nov. 4.
Saudi Arabia and the U.S. have blamed Iranian-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen for the incident.
Following the missile strike, Saudi Arabia accused Iran of “direct military aggression.”
The memo also included claims by Riyadh of Iranian involvement in the “sabotage” of an oil pipeline in Bahrain Friday.
Bassil visited France on the first day of his diplomatic trip across Europe.