BEIRUT: Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil met Wednesday with his Cypriot and Greek counterparts, the latter of whom said that “every time Lebanon needs help, we will be the link between Lebanon and Europe.”
During the meeting, the ministers set a deadline of May 7 for agreements on tourism, economic trade and cultural cooperation to be prepared, after which the presidents of the three countries are set to meet at a summit to sign them, Bassil said during a news conference.
Among those initiatives is a strategy called “Phoenician Road,” launched Wednesday to promote tourism among the three Mediterranean countries, and cooperation between the Lebanese University and Greek and Cypriot universities.
The presidential summit is set to be held in Cyprus later this year, said Cypriot Foreign Minister Nikos Christodoulides, who along with his Greek counterpart, Georgios Katrougalos, was also present at the news conference.
The Greek foreign minister, who spoke after Bassil at the news conference, said his country’s goal is to enhance communication throughout the Mediterranean.
Katrougalos said his country places significance on its relations with Lebanon, as shown by the visit by Greek President Prokopis Pavlopoulos and his wife, Vlassia Pavlopoulou-Peltsemi, who are set to arrive in Lebanon Thursday for a two-day stay.
The news conference also touched on the effects the Syrian refugee crisis has had on Lebanon.
“We are heading toward changing the European perspective on having the [Syrian] refugees in Lebanon,” Bassil said, emphasizing that Lebanon cannot continue serving as a buffer for Europe blocking the flow of refugees.
“We agreed on cooperation regarding terrorism and extremism and to stop the expansion of displacement and terrorism,” Bassil said.
Lebanon likely hosts over 1 million displaced Syrians, whose presence, officials say, is straining the country’s flagging economy and frail infrastructure.
Bassil called on the international community to fulfill its responsibility to help with the returns. The Cypriot and Greek officials in turn promised to relay Lebanon’s perspective on the issue to the European side.
Bassil and President Michel Aoun have repeatedly called for the safe return of Syrian refugees to their country without Lebanon waiting for a political solution for the yearslong conflict in the country.
But much of the international community has been vocal in refusing to assist in returns to Syria until a political solution to the war has been reached. “The safe and dignified return is crucial, and should not be tied to anything,” Bassil said.
There also was a discussion of Lebanon’s commitment to United Nations Security Council Resolution 1701, which ended the 33-day Israeli war on Lebanon in 2006, and the country’s rejection of the United States’ decision to recognize Israel’s sovereignty over the occupied Syrian Golan Heights.
Bassil also stressed to the ministers the need for Israel to withdraw from the occupied Shebaa Farms and Kfar Shuba hills.