Lebanon News

Davutoglu voices confidence in Lebanon

Davutoglu meets with Sleiman at Baabda Palace. (Azakir/The Daily Star)

BEIRUT: Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said Sunday that Turkey does not want the Arab Spring to lead to the suffering of any Christians.

Turkey is planning to host a Muslim-Christian meeting in the near future in order to address certain Christian fears, the minister told reporters during a visit to Beirut.

He also expressed his satisfaction with Lebanese leaders on their stances toward Syria.

“We don’t want to see Lebanon [become ] another victim of what is happening in Syria. I was very impressed with the Lebanese leaders who are acting wisely and see the risks posed to Lebanon. We want Lebanon to stay stable,” he said.

There was a strong indication after Davutoglu’s talks with top Lebanese officials that the Turkish leadership has given up hope that the Syrian government is able to carry out the necessary steps to allow President Bashar Assad to successfully resolve the crisis.

Davutoglu addressed the situation in Syria and issues of regional stability in talks with Lebanon’s leading politicians during his visit to Beirut over the weekend.

The minister also stressed the importance of Lebanon’s pivotal role in the region and Turkey’s efforts to mediate the ongoing crisis in the two countries’ shared neighbor.

Speaking to reporters in Beirut Sunday, Davutoglu said that in terms of creating safe havens or buffer zones within Turkey, Ankara would follow the lead of the U.N. Security Council. However, he added, “if there are major developments that impose themselves then we might seek our own measures.”

After meeting with Prime Minister Najib Mikati Saturday, Davutoglu said that Lebanon was the birthplace of the Arab Spring movement.

“The first Arab Spring, in order to achieve democracy, began in Lebanon, which has a rich heritage and culture and has witnessed free and fair elections, cultural and political exchange, and national reconciliation,” Davutoglu told reporters, adding that his government regarded Lebanon’s stability as paramount to that of the region as a whole.

“It is my pleasure to be here again in Beirut, it is like a second home to Turks, and especially to me,” the visiting minister added.

The foreign minister also stressed the importance of bilateral and economic ties between Turkey and Lebanon, adding that “we also have a common vision about the regional situation and the changes in the region and the Arab Spring.”

Also Saturday, Davutoglu met with Lebanese President Michel Sleiman, with whom he discussed bilateral relations, and the situation in the region, according to the National News Agency, and later with Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri followed by talks with Maronite Patriarch Beshara Rai.

Asked whether the subject of Syria had been discussed, Davutoglu said: “We talked more about issues dealing with religious tolerance and dialogue at this crucial and historical turning point in the region, and we stressed the importance of respect for all religions and sects. Lebanon is the positive model for peaceful living among the sects.”

Davutoglu also met with Hezbollah MP Mohammad Raad Saturday. Media reports said talks between the two were heated and lasted around two hours.

Raad, head of the Loyalty to the Resistance bloc in Parliament, announced a difference of opinion between himself and Davutoglu on the events in Syria, which has according to the U.N. led to over 5,000 deaths so far.

Raad stressed the need for change to come from within Syria itself, and not be enforced from outside.

In discussions with Davutoglu Sunday, Sheikh Abdel-Amir Qabalan, the deputy head of the Higher Shiite Council, called on the Turkish leadership to “coordinate and cooperate with the Islamic Republic of Iran to resolve the crisis in Syria, through dialogue and consultations ... Turkey must play the role of reformer and unifier in Syria and thus confront the smuggling of weapons to Syria and support national unity and coexistence to activate cooperation and communication among the Syrian people.”

“Syria is the first defense in confronting Israel,” and as such, “we must preserve its stability, as that preserves the entire region,” he added.

“We reject sectarian strife and will stand against it.”

Davutoglu also met Sunday with Grand Mufti Sheikh Mohammad Rashid Qabbani, who welcomed the foreign minister to Lebanon and expressed “pride in Turkey, its wise leadership and positive role in the Arab region and its openness to Arab states.”

He also voiced appreciation for “the Turkish role in supporting Lebanon and helping it survive challenges.”

Qabbani spoke to Davutoglu of his desire to unite Christian and Muslim leaders in the region, with the eventual aim of creating a pact between various religious sects, to confront any attempt to sow sectarian strife in the region.

Davutoglu also met with former President Amin Gemayel, former Prime Minister Fouad Siniora and Progressive Socialist Party leader Walid Jumbatt.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on January 16, 2012, on page 3.




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