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Hariri honors Chaaban: The Russian initiative for the displaced is the only pragmatic one

The President of the Council of Ministers Saad Hariri held a dinner yesterday at the Center House in honor of his advisor for Russian Affairs, Georges Chaaban, who was awarded Russia's "Order of friendship" by the Russian president Vladimir Putin.

Former Prime Ministers Fouad Siniora and Tamam Salam, ministers Raya El Hassan, Elias Bou Saab, Ali Hassan Khalil, Jamal Jarrah, Mohamed Choucair and Youssef Fenianos, a number of MPs, the Russian Ambassador Alexander Zasypkin as well as economic, social and media figures attended.

Ambassador Zasypkin said: "I am pleased to participate in this special ceremony, in honor of Mr. Georges Chaaban, who worked sincerely for decades to develop the relations between Russia and Lebanon. His work is reflected in a serious contribution to creating a fabric of Lebanese-Russian relations, following up the bilateral agenda and finding commonalities, consensus and solutions to emerging issues. His efforts, as adviser to Prime Minister Saad Hariri, are responsive to Lebanese national interests and at the same time are highly regarded by President Vladimir Putin, who awarded him the Order of friendship.

Mr. Georges Chaaban has strong ties with a large number of Russian officials in all departments, including the presidency, government, ministries of Foreign affairs, Interior, Defense, Economic development, Culture and others, and with companies, institutions, universities and scientific institutes. What is important is that these ties are not only formal and practical, but friendly, based on trust, empathy and mutual respect.

Mr. Chaaban played a key role in preparing many of the Russian-Lebanese negotiations at a high level, especially the meetings between President Putin and Prime Minister Saad Hariri. The Russian side is interested in the political views expressed by Mr. Georges Chaaban, as a positive and helpful factor to know and analyze what is happening in the region.

Therefore, I would like to take this opportunity to stress that we will continue the fruitful and efficient contacts with Mr. Georges Chaaban, as a united team, during the next phase in order to enhance the diverse and useful cooperation between Russia and Lebanon, and to seek new achievements for the interest of both countries.

Dear Friend, Georges, I praise your skills and your ethics. I wish you and your family health and success in your tireless efforts to consolidate the friendly relations between Russia and Lebanon."

For his part, Hariri said: "We meet today to honor my advisor and friend Georges Chaaban, and celebrate together the unique and historic relationship that binds Lebanon and the Federal Republic of Russia.

Everyone knows the deep-rooted friendship between our two countries. But our meeting today is an occasion to tell you a bit about the role that Georges plays in this relationship in general, and in the relationship between this house and Russia in particular.

Before working with me, he was Martyr Prime Minister Rafic Hariri's advisor for Russian affairs and played a key role in organizing his first official visit to Moscow in 1997, which was the first visit by a Lebanese Prime Minister to Russia.

After that, Rafic Hariri visited Moscow four times, and developed a strong friendship with President Vladimir Putin. I reveal a secret when I say that they met for the last time at the end of the summer of 2004 in Sardinia, in the presence of the then Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi. Of course, Georges played a role in preparing this meeting as well.

After the martyrdom of Prime Minister Rafic Hariri, Georges Chaaban, the loyal friend, remained my adviser. He participated in organizing my first official visit to Moscow in 2006, where I was honored to meet President Putin for the first time out of the nine meetings we held together so far.

Today, Georges continues his tireless and discreet role with the Russian government, the Foreign Ministry and the Kremlin. He is working on several files, including one of the most sensitive files for our country, the Russian initiative to encourage the displaced Syrians to return home, which is by the way the only pragmatic initiative on the table.

Lebanon is no longer able to bear the burden of more than one and a half million displaced Syrian brothers on its territory. These are enormous economic, social, environmental and financial burdens.

Therefore, our policy is to work for their safe and dignified return as soon as possible.

The Russian initiative, in cooperation with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), is working specifically for this objective. Today, it is looking for steps to ensure the safe and dignified return of our displaced brothers, including the adoption of a general amnesty law and a two-year freeze of conscription. This is an occasion to call on all friends and allies to exert pressure in this direction.

Finally, I would like to thank the Russian government, the Russian people, and President Vladimir Putin specifically for his constant keenness on Lebanon's stability and sovereignty and on preventing any interference in its affairs. I would also like to extend my thanks to my friend, Georges Chaaban, for everything he has done, is doing and will do for the benefit of Lebanon and for the sake of consolidating the relationship between Lebanon and Russia".

In conclusion, Chaaban said:

"Where shall I begin? I spent half of my life in the heart of this great national house, which offered a lot to the country, even martyrdom. Thank you Prime Minister Hariri. I spent forty years of my life in the Soviet Union and the Russian Federation, where I started as a student. For a quarter of a century, I have been committed to the project, path and cause of Martyr Prime Minister Rafic Hariri and then Prime Minister Saad Hariri.

I have the honor to stand before you, having been awarded the Order of Friendship by His Excellency President Vladimir Putin. I take this opportunity to convey to His Excellency all gratitude and appreciation.

This decoration is a tribute from the President of the Russian Federation to the hard and determined effort of Prime Minister Rafic Hariri and, after him, of Prime Minister Saad Hariri, to reinforce the Lebanese-Russian relations and the Arab-Russian relations. It is based on a visionary perception of Russia's increasingly influential role in the international arena, especially in the Middle East. I am an internal witness to that.

These relations are based on the personal friendship and trust between Prime Minister Rafic Hariri and later Prime Minister Saad Hariri with President Vladimir Putin. And I am witness to that.

I do not hide my personal pride about this award, because it is the fruit of a multi-faceted effort that receives a constructive response and permanent assistance, whether from the Kremlin administration or the Ministries of Foreign Affairs and Defense and the various policy and decision-making circles of the Russian Federation, the hospitable country, as well as from the Embassy of the Russian Federation in Lebanon. I am a modest part of the effort and path of this house.

We all know and highly appreciate Russia's steadfast stances in supporting Lebanon's independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity, its support in various international forums and its help in the difficult circumstances Lebanon has experienced, to overcome them and enhance civil peace and the march of state building.

In conclusion, I express the gratitude and pleasure that I felt when you described me as a discreet friend. This is an honor! I promise to remain as I am, at the service of this path, the path of moderation, for the future of Lebanon and its prosperity, and I will continue to work on the consolidation and development of Lebanese-Russian relations."

Source: National News Agency