BEIRUT: Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov urged rival Lebanese parties Friday to support President Michel Sleiman’s efforts aimed at preserving stability and civil peace in the face of threats posed by the 2-year-old civil war in Syria.
Speaking to reporters after holding talks with top Lebanese leaders, Bogdanov, a special Middle East envoy of Russian President Vladimir Putin, stressed that dialogue was the only way to resolve the political crisis in Lebanon and end the bloody conflict in neighboring Syria.
He also voiced support for Lebanon’s proposal to convene an international conference to address the plight of thousands of Syrian refugees in Lebanon and other host countries.
The Russian envoy, who began a three-day visit to Beirut Thursday, met with Sleiman first before holding talks with caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati, Speaker Nabih Berri and Army commander Gen. Jean Kahwagi. He also attended a luncheon hosted by Hezbollah in his honor at a restaurant on the road to Beirut airport. He is to meet Prime Minister-designate Tammam Salam Saturday morning.
Speaking at a brief news conference with Hezbollah MP Mohammad Raad after the luncheon attended by a number of party MPs, Bogdanov said the Lebanese should find solutions to political problems through dialogue.
“There might be different viewpoints stemming from various parties but we think the Lebanese should look for solutions via a comprehensive national dialogue,” he said.
Asked about Moscow’s stance on Hezbollah’s involvement in the Syrian fighting, Bogdanov said his country dealt with the party out of respect for the will of the Lebanese people who elected its MPs. “I want to confirm that we respect the will of the Lebanese people in electing their parliamentarians and we deal with Hezbollah and thus respect the will of the Lebanese,” he said, adding that Hezbollah’s viewpoints should be respected.
Progressive Socialist Party leader Walid Jumblatt warned after meeting Bogdanov for the second time in two days that Lebanon’s unity was threatened by the ongoing war in Syria.
“We are going through a crisis that might be the most dangerous crisis and it could threaten the unity of the Lebanese as a result of the Syrian events,” Jumblatt said after meeting Bogdanov at his palace in Mukhtara. “We are looking forward and we hope that Russia, in cooperation with the Security Council states, will put an end to this destructive war and save the Syrian people from that tragedy.”
Earlier in the day, Bogdanov handed Sleiman a letter from Putin in which the Russian leader voiced support for the president’s efforts to preserve stability in Lebanon as well as dialogue among the various Lebanese parties.
Putin also voiced his support for the “Baabda Declaration,” which calls for distancing Lebanon from regional conflicts, particularly in Syria.
During the meeting at Baabda Palace, Bogdanov “underlined the need for all the political parties to support the efforts the president is exerting to preserve civil peace and stability in the country,” according to a statement from Baabda Palace.
The Russian envoy called for combined regional and international efforts to help find a political solution to the crisis in Syria, while reiterating Russia’s opposition to any military interference in the war-ravaged country.
Bogdanov briefed Sleiman on the reasons behind his visit, which he said was partly aimed at supporting Lebanon’s position calling for the convening of an international conference to discuss the Syrian refugee crisis.
Sleiman thanked Russia for its support for Lebanon, urging it to exert more efforts with influential regional and international countries to search for a political solution to the crisis in Syria and prevent its repercussions from spreading to Lebanon.
Bogdanov said he discussed with Berri, whom he described as the wisest politician in Lebanon and the region, developments in the country, including efforts to form a new government and preparations for the parliamentary elections, scheduled in June.
“We also spoke about what is happening in Syria given it’s Lebanon's neighbor,” he said. “We fully agreed with Speaker Berri that problems facing Lebanon and other countries in the region could only be resolved through a comprehensive national dialogue and understanding among various political parties in regional states and Syria,” he added.
Asked if there was still a chance for a dialogue in Syria given the rifts among Syrian opposition groups and the rise of Al-Qaeda, Salafist and other fundamentalist movements, Bogdanov said: “We have seriously reaffirmed that there is no choice other than the political choice through dialogue based on the ‘Geneva statement’ issued on June 30 last year, which outlined the bases of a peaceful political settlement in Syria.” – Additional reporting by H. D.