BEIRUT: Britain understands the need for Lebanon to maintain its policy of disassociation on the uprising in Syria, U.K. Under-Secretary of State for the Middle East and North Africa Alistair Burt said Friday.
“We understand very clearly the unique nature of the relationship between Lebanon and its neighbor and the way in which it must act,” Burt told reporters during a briefing after a day of meetings with Lebanese officials, including Prime Minister Najib Mikati.
“The stability of Lebanon over these past months when so much has gone on in Syria has been of huge importance and benefit to the Lebanese people,” Burt added. “Accordingly, the government, it seems to me, will have made wise judgments in trying to ensure that what has happened over the border has not disturbed the stability of Lebanon.”
Burt was in Beirut on a two-day visit, his first since July 2010. He met Friday with Mikati to discuss several issues, including the situation of Syrian and Palestinian refugees in Lebanon, and the stability of the country.
Burt emphasized the U.K.’s continued commitment to providing aid to support Syrian refugees in Lebanon. Britain this week pledged an additional $6.4 million in humanitarian aid to Syrian refugees across the region.
However, he said he had not discussed in detail with Mikati any contingency plans for a rapid increase in numbers. “I am quite sure people have in mind contingencies to be used if need be, but nobody wants to see this happen,” he told reporters. “[However], Lebanon can be assured that it will not be left alone to cope with this issue if the numbers increase.”
The situation of Palestinian refugees was also addressed during the meeting, and in his briefing to reporters Burt emphasized the need for the implementation of recent changes in labor laws giving Palestinians increased rights to work “in practice as well as just in theory.”
“We believe further steps should be taken to implement the law,” Burt said.
There are approximately 400,000 Palestinian refugees registered with the U.N. in Lebanon. However, unofficial estimates sometimes place the number of Palestinian refugees actually living in Lebanon at 250,000.
Burt also met with Energy and Water Minister Gebran Bassil to discuss the potential for the exploitation of oil and gas reserves off Lebanon’s coast.
Burt was also in Lebanon to promote the 2012 Summer Olympic Games and the Paralympic Games, which will take place in London between July and August.
“I was thrilled to meet three Olympians who will be coming from Lebanon,” he told reporters.
Separately, Mikati met with U.S. Ambassador to Lebanon Maura Connelly at the Grand Serail.
A statement from the U.S. Embassy said the two discussed the areas of cooperation between Lebanon and the U.S. as well as regional events.
Connelly renewed her country’s “commitment to a stable, sovereign and independent Lebanon.”