Joseph Haboush| The Daily Star
BEIRUT: President Michel Aoun said Friday that the political crisis that followed the shock resignation of Prime Minister Saad Hariri has come to an end and that a “complete solution” is close to being reached. He made the remarks in Rome following a meeting with Italy’s Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni, according to a statement from Aoun’s office.
In the statement, the president “confirmed that the crisis ... has been closed and is on the way to a complete solution.”
Aoun thanked the Italians for their continued support for Lebanon and noted the importance of national unity, as well as of security and financial stability.
Aoun also advocated for the return of Syrian refugees to safe zones inside Syria. He said there needs to be “coordination between the international community and Lebanon to accomplish this ... because of the negative effects [the presence of over 1 million refugees] has on Lebanon.”
Gentiloni told Aoun during their meeting that Rome would organize a conference aimed at strengthening Lebanon’s Army and security apparatuses in the near future.
The Italian prime minister also reaffirmed his country’s commitment to supporting the United Nations peacekeeping force in Lebanon.
During the meeting, Gentiloni spoke of Lebanon’s role in maintaining stability in the Middle East and Italy’s continued support, particularly to boost the Army’s capacity.
“The Army is capable of maintaining stability and because of this, preparations will begin for a specific conference to support the Army and security apparatuses, in coordination with other countries who are partners in this,” the presidency’s statement quoted the Italian prime minister as saying.
Gentiloni added that the Italian government would look at ways of boosting economic cooperation with Lebanon and helping in the country’s electricity, oil and gas sectors “especially since Italian company ENI is in a consortium to explore oil and gas in two sectors – one in south Lebanon and the other in the north.”
Both sides reaffirmed the need for a political solution to the Syria conflict which would incorporate the issue of the refugees’ return from Lebanon to Syria.
Aoun returned to Lebanon at around 5:30 p.m. Friday evening after his official three-day visit to Rome, where he gave the opening speech at the MED 2017 – this year’s Mediterranean Dialogues conference. His address focused on the fight against terrorism in both the immediate and long-term.
Aoun Thursday received guarantees of support for the Army and U.N. peacekeeping forces in the country from Italian President Sergio Mattarella.
“We will continue to support [Lebanon] in all areas, especially in the military, where it has been decided that the number of [Italian trainers] in training courses for the officers and military personnel in various Lebanese armed forces will be increased,” Mattarella said.
While in Italy, Aoun also commented on political developments in Lebanon, saying there had been attempts to keep Lebanon an “obedient state,” but that those attempts had not succeeded.
“There is no country larger than Lebanon and no country smaller. It’s true that our numbers are small, but our dignity is as great as the size of our dispersal around the world,” Aoun said.
He added that everyone would come to understand in the future that Lebanon is sovereign, independent and free. He added that he did not think Lebanon would be subject to “many problems.”
The remarks came during a dinner held in Aoun’s honor by the local Lebanese community.
Aoun and Mattarella had reportedly agreed that Lebanon must stay away from “existing tensions in the Middle East,” and both expressed hope for a quick political solution to the Syrian crisis.
Mattarella received an official invitation to visit Lebanon from Aoun, which he accepted, though the date for that visit has not yet been set.
Aoun arrived in Rome Wednesday and was joined by Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil who departed to Paris Friday to meet with Prime Minister Saad Hariri in an effort to prepare for next week’s expected Cabinet session.