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Syria crisis risks further polarizing Lebanon: Bogdanov

Russia's Deputy Foreign Minister, Mikhail Bogdanov speaks during a press conference upon his arrival at Rafik Hariri International Airport in Beirut, Thursday, April 25, 2013. (The Daily Star/Mohammad Azakir)

BEIRUT: Russia opposes attempts to use countries neighboring Syria to interfere in the 2-year-old conflict and is worried that any prolonging of the crisis risks widening divisions in the Arab state and its neighbor Lebanon, Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov said Saturday.

The Russian envoy, who is on an official visit to Lebanon, also said the consensus over the naming of Prime Minister-designate Tammam Salam would help accelerate the formation of a Cabinet in Lebanon.

Bogdanov’s comments came following separate meetings with Salam, Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea and a Future Movement delegation headed by MP Atef Majdalani.

“We have said before that we are against any intervention in the internal affairs of Syria and against any attempts to use territories of neighboring countries for that purpose,” he told reporters after meeting Geagea, in response to a question about Russia’s stance toward Hezbollah’s growing involvement in Syria.

Asked whether Hezbollah was responsive to the policy of noninterference in Syria, Bogdanov said: “Throughout our contacts with them [Hezbollah], we exerted efforts to prevent any interference in Syrian affairs.”

The diplomat, after talks with Salam, reiterated support for the “Baabda Declaration,” saying: “We still think [the Lebanese] should exert all possible efforts to preserve stability and the safety of their land."

He added that Lebanese politicians are the ones to decide the country's foreign policy.

The “Baabda Declaration,” a pact endorsed by the country’s rival political leader in 2012, calls for keeping Lebanon at a distance from regional turmoil, particularly events in Syria.

Commenting on the crisis in Syria, Bogdanov said Moscow feared “that the longer the crisis persists in Syria, the further differences will be exacerbated between parties in Syria and Lebanon.”

During a chat with reports after meeting Geagea at the latter’s Maarab residence, Bogdanov reiterated Moscow’s stance that only a political solution formulated by Syrians themselves could resolve the crisis.

For his part, Geagea said Russia has always been a friend of Lebanon as a state and people given its support for international resolutions issued by the U.N. Security Council including UNSCR 1757, which established the Special Tribunal for Lebanon.

Geagea also told the Russian envoy the crisis in Syria was having a destructive effect to both Lebanon and the region.

“I relayed to him my opinion that it is necessary to end the Syrian crisis as soon as possible given that the continuing the crisis will be destructive to Syria and will include Lebanon and Jordan later on and many other neighboring countries and regional states,” Geagea told reporters.

Geagea said that Bogdanov had agreed with him on the need for a speedy Cabinet formation and the need to strengthen the role of the state to protect its borders.

Bogdanov said consensus over Salam’s appointment as prime minister-designate should accelerate the formation of a new government.

"We think that the consensus [over Salam's designation] will facilitate the process of forming a new government successfully and swiftly," he told reporters outside Salam's residence in Msaitbeh, Beirut.

Salam was appointed on April 6 by a sweeping majority during parliamentary consultations to replace caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati, who resigned in March over rifts within his Cabinet.

 

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