Lebanon News

European ministers back Beirut’s direction

Poland’s Radoslav Sikorski, Bildt and Mladenov discuss the details of their meetings with officials. (The Daily Star/Mahmoud Kheir)

BEIRUT: European foreign ministers voiced broad support for Lebanon Friday, backing the policy of dissociation over the Syrian conflict, National Dialogue over security issues and assistance for refugees.

The remarks came from the foreign ministers of Sweden, Poland and Bulgaria in Beirut during a string of meetings they had with President Michel Sleiman, Speaker Nabih Berri and former Prime Minister Fouad Siniora.

“I think there is general agreement between all of us that it is extremely important to insulate Lebanon from the crisis in Syria,” Bulgaria’s Nickolay Mladenov told a news conference. “We are quite concerned with the regional effects of the situation in Syria.”

The ministers said they would carefully monitor Syrian incursions into Lebanese territory and also reaffirmed the European Union’s backing of a peaceful solution to the Syrian crisis.

Lebanon has been gripped by a period of general instability related to the 16-month-old uprising in Syria against President Bashar Assad’s regime. Months of sporadic violence have raised the specter of civil war, inflaming sectarian feuds and challenging the current government’s policy of dissociation form the conflict.

Despite the unrest, the message from the foreign ministers who will report back to the European Union was: hold the course.

“We would like to repeat the support of the European Union for the effort of the Lebanese leadership to promote peace, security and stability in a complex regional environment,” said Carl Bildt, Sweden’s foreign minister.

Bildt said that Sleiman’s call to reconvene National Dialogue had been an important step, and the ministers voiced support for the efforts to tackle security issues and non-state weapons in the country.

“This process exemplifies the existing political will and capacity of the leaders of Lebanon to come together in the interests of the country,” Bildt said.

A statement from Baabda Palace issued after the president’s meeting with the trio said Sleiman expressed hope that dialogue would continue and said Monday’s session must tackle the issues on its agenda: protecting Lebanon from the repercussions of the Syria conflict and rejecting the establishment of a buffer zone used for smuggling weapons and fighters.

Other issues discussed by the ministers included alleviating poverty in north Lebanon as part of efforts to increase stability, controlling conflicts in the Palestinian camps and helping Palestinian and Syrian refugees.

“We also want to ensure that adequate support is given to the vulnerable populations that are seeking help in Lebanon at this time, such as Palestinian refugees,” Bildt said.

The ministers were accompanied by EU Ambassador to Lebanon Angelina Eichhorst. The officials are scheduled to visit Iraq and then travel to Luxembourg Sunday, where they will share their impressions with the EU’s other 24 foreign ministers.

The foreign ministers also met with Future Movement leader Siniora Friday evening and again reaffirmed their calls for National Dialogue, stability and disassociation.

“This visit is meant to really reinforce the support of the European Union to Lebanon in this particular case, but also to the region as a whole at a time of some considerable strain,” Bildt said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on June 23, 2012, on page 2.




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