NEW YORK: President Michel Aoun asked for support from the Egyptian and U.S. governments Monday ahead of this week’s United Nations General Assembly debate. Aoun Monday met with Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi and the latter made it clear that Lebanon needs to form a government.
Political and diplomatic sources familiar with the meeting said that Sisi spoke of his country’s support for Lebanon. “He told Aoun, ‘Tell us what you need from us and we are ready to help,’ but reiterated the need for a government to be formed in Lebanon,” one source told The Daily Star.
The same source added: “Sisi voiced his readiness to provide Lebanon with economic expertise and advice to help the economy.”
The meeting also touched on the ongoing situation in the region as well as the Syrian refugee crisis, while Sisi welcomed Lebanon’s position on the need to facilitate a return to the refugees’ homeland. The Egyptian president echoed Aoun and the Lebanese government’s calls for a return to safe zones inside Syria.
For his part, Aoun spoke of Lebanon’s continued stability and security. According to a statement from Baabda Palace, Egypt’s foreign minister and security intelligence chief were present in the meeting that touched on the battle against terror.
Aoun went to Egypt on an official visit close to a year and a half ago and Monday’s meeting continued where that meeting between Aoun and Sisi left off to look at ways of increasing bilateral ties.
The Lebanese president thanked Egypt for its support and expected participation in an economic development summit to be held in Beirut in January. Aoun briefed his Egyptian counterpart on the preparations for the summit.
In another bid for Egyptian support to Lebanon, Aoun brought up his initiative to make Lebanon a permanent center for dialogue among all cultures and civilizations. He will raise the issue and look to garner support for U.N. member states during his speech to be given Wednesday morning.
Separately, Aoun asked for the Lebanese diaspora in the United States to work with Washington to strengthen the capabilities of the Lebanese Army.
“The Army proved its efficiency and experience in the face of terrorism,” Aoun was quoted as saying to the American Task Force for Lebanon during a Monday meeting.
“We need your contribution,” Aoun told the ATFL when talking about Lebanon’s economic situation, which he stressed needed to remain separate from the political situation.
The president, as he has on multiple occasions before, voiced the negative effects of the Syrian refugee crisis on Lebanon’s economy. “We must not wait for a political situation to the Syrian crisis for Syrian refugees to return home because the Cypriot and Palestinian experiences have taught us the need to separate [the two],” Aoun said.
“Lebanon needs your help to strengthen the culture of peace that it advocates,” Aoun added.
Speaking on behalf of the ATFL, its president Edward Gabriel briefed Aoun on his organization’s work to garner regional and international support for Lebanon.
Responding to questions from the ATFL, Aoun said Lebanon’s security situation is under control and that security forces are carrying out their duties to the fullest.
One source familiar with the meeting said Aoun told the ATFL about a few points he will touch on in Wednesday’s speech. “We were very pleased with what we saw,” the source said.
Although he was absent from the meeting with Sisi due to travel, caretaker Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil attended the ATFL meeting. During the meeting, he told the organization about his meetings with Lebanese diaspora and how important their work is in allowing the U.S. administration to help Lebanon.
As The Daily Star went to print, it was not yet determined whether Aoun would attend a dinner hosted by U.S. President Donald Trump for the heads of states.
A meeting for foreign ministers from Arab states was held Monday evening. Lebanon was represented by the Foreign Ministry’s Political and Consular Affairs Director Ghadi al-Khoury and Lebanon’s permanent representative to the U.N., Amal Mudallali.
Bassil was at Princeton University giving a speech on refugees.
While this week’s UNGA is expected to witness increased rhetoric against Iran, Aoun denied that Tehran’s ally, Hezbollah, plays any military role inside Lebanon.
“Hezbollah doesn’t play any military role inside Lebanon and doesn’t carry out any act along the border with Israel,” Aoun said in an interview published by French paper Le Figaro Monday. “The party’s [arms ownership] is now linked to the [situation in the] Middle East and in resolving the Syrian conflict.”
Hezbollah has been fighting alongside the Syrian President Bashar Assad, which the group publically acknowledged in 2013. The group’s leader, Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah, has said the party will only leave Syria if asked by the Syrian government.
In the interview, Aoun also denied that Hezbollah had any veto on strategic decisions on the national level.
“Lebanon is a consensus system and expressing an opinion doesn’t mean using the veto right,” he said. Aoun added that the international pressure on Hezbollah isn’t new and has been increasing, explaining that some sides were attempting to seek political revenge from the party after their military revenge had failed when Hezbollah won against Israel several times.
“The popular base of Hezbollah constitutes more than a third of the Lebanese people and unfortunately, some foreign public opinion insists on making [Hezbollah] the enemy.”
On the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly Tuesday, Aoun is scheduled to meet with Croatia’s president, the heads of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent, Jordan’s king, Armenia’s prime minister and Ukraine’s president.