Bas­sil stresses im­por­tance of Saudi ties

Min­is­ter cites French sup­port as he em­barks on diplo­matic vis­its to Euro­pean lead­ers

The Daily Star (Lebanon) - - LEBANON - By Ghinwa Obeid

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.

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