BEIRUT: French President Francois Hollande called Wednesday on the rival Lebanese factions to cooperate to overcome the current political crisis and maintain stability in Lebanon.
Speaking during a meeting with Prime Minister Najib Mikati at the Elysee Palace, he praised the Lebanese government’s policy to insulate Lebanon from the repercussions of the 20-month-old bloody conflict in Syria.
“France will not interfere in internal Lebanese affairs and will not give lessons to the Lebanese. But it hopes that all the Lebanese parties will consider themselves concerned with finding a solution for the current crisis,” Hollande said, according to a statement released by Mikati’s office.
“I call on the Lebanese to be aware of the importance of their stability, unity and cooperation to overcome the crises surrounding them,” he added.
Hollande said France respected and supported Lebanon’s position to distance itself from the conflict in Syria, describing it as “a wise position.”
He restated France’s support for Lebanon’s unity, sovereignty and stability, saying: “France is determined to support the Lebanese Army. Practical results of this support will emerge in the next weeks emanating from France’s confidence that the Lebanese Army is the institution that can ensure Lebanon’s stability.”
Mikati wrapped up a three-day official visit to France Wednesday by holding talks with Hollande on the political stalemate in Lebanon and ways to protect the country from the fallout of the turmoil in Syria.
He was welcomed by Hollande at the entrance of the Elysee Palace where the two shook hands before going inside for a bilateral meeting. They were later joined by members of their delegations. Mikati is accompanied by the ministers of economy and trade, information and youth and sports.
Hollande praised the Lebanese government’s decision to finance the U.N.-backed Special Tribunal for Lebanon, which is trying to uncover the assassins of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri killed in a massive truck bombing on Feb. 14, 2005, in Beirut.
He also said France would help Lebanon in coping with the influx of thousands of Syrian refugees fleeing the violence in their country.
Speaking to reporters after the meeting, Mikati said he thanked Hollande for his continuous support for Lebanon, for visiting Beirut on Nov. 4 and for supporting President Michel Sleiman’s efforts to resume National Dialogue between the feuding Lebanese parties. “I have felt from President Hollande full support for the policy Lebanon has been following on the Syria issue,” Mikati said.
He added that the talks also covered French efforts to support the Lebanese Army and economy in addition to the situation in Palestine.
Mikati met at his residence in Paris with the Arab ambassadors accredited in France. He later delivered a lecture at the International Diplomatic Academy during which he reiterated his government’s policy to distance Lebanon from the developments in Syria.
In reply to a question, Mikati said a Cabinet change might be one of the means to defuse tensions in Lebanon which, he said, is facing three crises: the Syrian war, the international standoff with Iran over its nuclear program and the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.
“I have said and I repeat that a Cabinet change must be the gateway to a solution. The resignation should not be the gateway to other crises,” he said.
Mikati stressed that dialogue among the rival factions was the only way to protect Lebanon against threats: “Let the Cabinet situation be the first item on the Dialogue table and an election law the second item.”
During a meeting with Paris-based Arab journalists at his residence, Mikati said French officials wanted civil peace and stability to be preserved in Lebanon.
“If a Cabinet change benefits Lebanon, they have no objection. But they do not interfere in internal Lebanese affairs,” he added.
In an interview with LBCI TV from Paris Tuesday night, Mikati said he was ready to step down if the resignation of his government would help resolve the political crisis triggered by last month’s assassination of police intelligence chief Brig. Gen. Wissam al-Hasan.
However, he warned that the resignation of his government, a major demand of the opposition March 14 coalition, would throw the country into a bigger crisis in the absence of an agreement by the rival political parties on a new Cabinet.
Arab and Western countries have voiced concerns over stability and a power vacuum in Lebanon following the opposition’s calls for the government’s resignation in the wake of Hasan’s assassination.
Mikati had also held talks with French Prime Minister Jean Marc Ayrault and Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius who have praised his government’s disassociation policy on the Syrian crisis.
In Lebanon, U.S. Ambassador to Lebanon Maura Connelly met former Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, head of the parliamentary Future bloc, with whom she discussed developments in Lebanon and the broader situation in the Middle East.
During this time, Connelly called on “all parties to exercise restraint and respect for Lebanon’s stability and security.”