BEIRUT: EU Foreign Policy Chief Catherine Ashton held talks with Lebanese leaders Tuesday, praising efforts to maintain stability through National Dialogue following the assassination of top intelligence chief Brig. Gen. Wissam al-Hasan.
“I welcome the efforts undertaken to maintain stability through National Dialogue and encourage all political leaders to work toward constructive solutions to the main challenges facing Lebanon today,” Ashton said during a news conference at the airport after wrapping up a visit to Beirut.
“At such times, the importance of robust state institutions that continue to ensure security and provide services cannot be understated,” she added.
Earlier Tuesday, Ashton told Prime Minister Najib Mikati that the European Union was concerned over the impact of Hasan’s killing on the security situation in Lebanon.
“The bombing was a terrible thing. We are concerned over Lebanon’s stability,” Ashton told Mikati during the 60-minute meeting at the Grand Serail in Downtown Beirut.
A statement from Mikati’s office said Ashton highlighted during the meeting that there were certain sides “seeking to divert the attention from the situation in the region by making trouble in Lebanon.”
“We appreciate the positions of Mr. Mikati to maintain the cohesion and integrity of Lebanon under these difficult circumstances,” Ashton was quoted as telling Mikati.
Speaking to reporters before heading to the presidential palace for talks with President Michel Sleiman, the diplomat described her meeting with Mikati as “very good.”
Ashton’s visit “is a show of support” for Mikati, a source at the Grand Serail told The Daily Star.
From Baabda Palace, Ashton drove back to Beirut for talks with Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri. She also met head of the Future bloc Fouad Siniora and Lebanese Army Commander Gen. Jean Kahwagi.
Talks with Lebanese officials during her one-day visit also tackled developments in the Middle East and the impact of the Syrian crisis on Lebanon.
In the press conference at the airport before heading to Amman, Ashton praised Lebanese authorities for providing humanitarian aid to refugees who have fled the deadly conflict in neighboring Syria.
“Acknowledging the delicate regional situation, I take this opportunity to commend the Lebanese authorities and host communities, as well as humanitarian partners for their support to those Syrians forced to flee their country,” she said.
Sources at the Grand Serail had earlier told The Daily Star that Ashton will reiterate the EU’s position which calls for the Lebanese government not to resign to avoid plunging the country into a power vacuum.
Mikati had announced his desire to resign following last week’s assassination of the ISF Information branch chief Brig. Gen. Wissam al-Hasan.
Hasan and at least two other people, including his bodyguard, were killed in a car bombing in Ashrafieh Friday.
Foreign officials who have contacted Mikati since Hasan’s assassination have also urged him not to resign over fears about a power vacuum, said the sources at the Grand Serail.
Mikati has come under mounting pressure from the opposition March 14 parties to resign since Hasan’s killing. March 14 has blamed Mikati and Syrian President Bashar Assad for Hasan’s assassination.