BEIRUT: President Michel Sleiman has urged the Future Movement-led March 14 coalition not to tie National Dialogue to Hezbollah’s military involvement in Syria.
“It’s wrong for some to say that we will only sit down with Hezbollah after its return from Syria because Hezbollah is an essential component of the Lebanese fabric,” Sleiman said in remarks published Thursday by the local daily As-Safir.
“[It is] true that we are against its [Hezbollah’s] involvement in Syria, but [we should] sit down with [Hezbollah] and tell them that you must come back from Syria,” he added.
Sleiman stressed that the Baabda Declaration, which calls for keeping Lebanon at a distance from the Syria crisis, provides benefits for all “because it calls for keeping Lebanon neutral from conflicts.”
“It is neither reasonable nor acceptable to shun the Baabda Declaration,” he said.
“We discussed the Declaration in the presence of all members of the National Dialogue over a period of four hours and 15 minutes; and all that we discussed and agreed upon was mentioned in the statement.”
Hezbollah is fighting alongside Syrian government troops against rebels demanding the ouster of President Bashar Assad.
Sleiman recalled the circumstances before and during the Baabda Declaration, how he presented it to world leaders and how he paved the way to discuss the importance of abiding by such an agreement prior to his recent New York visit.
The president said that he had highlighted the need for Lebanon to commit to the Baabda Declaration during talks with senior Iranian official Alaeddin Boroujerdi this summer.
Iran has been the main backer of Hezbollah and Assad.
“I had expressed regrets about the violations of this Declaration, which do not serve Lebanon,” Sleiman said.
But Boroujerdi raised concerns over the rise of Takfiri groups and the threat they pose to the region, Sleiman added.
“I responded based on my military experience,” he said, citing three factors that contributed to the Lebanese Army’s victory over Fatah al-Islam in the 2007 war at the north Lebanon Palestinian refugee camp of Nahr al-Bared: Lebanese unity, gaining the Sunni sect’s full support and the fact that 80 percent of the soldiers killed in the battle were Sunnis.
“I told him that fighting Takfiris in Syria as a number would be worthless because if you fight 1,000 they would bring 10,000,” he explained, adding that worse than that is when the fight takes on a sectarian tone.
“Then they would come to you wherever you are, let alone the sympathy they would get considering that they are being targeted by a different sect,” Sleiman said of his response to Boroujerdi during talks at his summer residence in Beiteddine earlier this summer.
“I told him that what is needed is to embrace the moderates of all sects so as not to foster a supportive environment for extremists.”
Sleiman said Boroujerdi responded “positively” to his remarks. “He informed me that he will convey these good words to the Iranian leadership.”