Prime Minister Saad Hariri met Friday with French President Emmanuel Macron, who announced after the meeting that two conferences will be held in the first quarter of next year: the first to support the Lebanese economy and the second to discuss the issue of the Syrian refugees.
Prime Minister Hariri was welcomed at the main entrance of the Elysee by President Macron and they held a closed meeting that lasted 40 minutes. An extended meeting was then held in the presence of the Lebanese Charge d'affaires Ghadi Khoury, Mr. Nader Hariri, advisor Basil Yared and the advisers of President Macron.
It was followed by a joint statement by Presidents Macron and Hariri:
President Macron said:
"First, I would like to thank the Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri for his visit to Paris during which he met with the Prime Minister and members of the government. We just had a meeting and I would like to thank him for the fruitful discussions. We met in Beirut last January as part of the French presidential campaign and I did not forget the extremely warm welcome he gave me and I want to thank him today for that.
By welcoming the Prime Minister today in Paris, it is the relationship between our two countries that I want to salute. This centuries-old relationship that finds its extension in our exchanges with the density of content and what we want to continue. In the troubled regional context to which Lebanon is confronted, I would like to reiterate to you that France will continue to stand by Lebanon.
This is what we are going to do in the context of our bilateral economic, cultural and linguistic relations and we spoke about this with the will to take concrete initiatives. We will continue this exchange during the state visit of President Aoun in a few weeks to Paris.
This state visit, which is the first I host since my election, is also a sign of the relationship that unites us.
In recent months, Lebanon has taken important steps towards a return to normal of the institutions. The constitution of your government, the election of President Aoun, and then during the last semester, the electoral law that was expected and for which you worked very hard with the president, have remedied both a context of crisis and an Institutional vacancy, and a return to normalcy. You are continuing to take important reforms and France considers these reforms essential. The renewal of parliament will be part of this process of reviving the country and I want France to be able to fully accompany these transformations in all respects. What we need and what we want to encourage is a strengthening of the Lebanese state. Moreover, it is with this philosophy and purpose that we will conduct our policy of economic cooperation, development and involvement of French companies in Lebanon to develop our bilateral aid and our involvement.
We also discussed the security challenge and in particular the terrorist threat that is a matter of concern for both our countries. In this regard, I would like to pay tribute to the Lebanese armed and security forces, which are working tirelessly to preserve Lebanon from indiscriminate violence and to protect the border. These forces also preserve the sovereignty and strength of the Lebanese state, which we need. I want to reiterate the full support of France, first of all through the Unifil whose mandate has just been renewed, that France supports and in which we are strongly involved with the presence of 800 French soldiers. Also with the will to continue our cooperation in military and security matters and to be able to continue with you and our Italian partners what has been started with the conferences that could be held if everyone is able to finalize the details and I know that you are going to Italy yourself in the coming weeks.
We also addressed the refugee crisis and the situation you face in the regional context. Lebanon, and I saw this with my own eyes when I visited a refugee camp last January, welcomes 1.2 million refugees, which in proportion to your population is a burden, an engagement that manifests the moral implication of your country in the region but also shows the importance of Lebanon in the stability of the whole region in the context that we know. A total of 9 million refugees in several border countries are living away from Syria. In this context I would like to recall several elements. First, France is fully committed to coordinating the fight against terrorism and will continue to do so until the end, with a determination to put an end to all forms of terrorism in the region. Furthermore, France wants to engage, as I already announced, a diplomatic action for the construction of peace and the political stabilization of Syria which is an indispensable condition of returning to normalcy.
In this context we have taken the initiative to set up a contact group of all the parties involved in the conflict and it is obvious that the Syrians living abroad and the countries hosting refugees are essential stakeholders and will have a role to play. Our aim is to find a political solution, a political transition that will allow a return to normality, the complete and lasting eradication of all forms of terrorism in the country and its reconstruction with the necessary political balances. I wished to reiterate to Prime Minister Hariri that Lebanon is and will remain the first recipient of French aid in response to the Syrian refugee crisis. It will be fully involved in this transition. To move forward on this point, I hope that during the first quarter of 2018 we can have an investor conference, that could be held in Paris, to mobilize all public and private funding to help Lebanon with all economic developments which will enable the Lebanese but also all the refugees involved to with new projects.
And again during the first quarter of 2018, I would like to organize a conference on the return of refugees to their country involving the main countries hosting refugees in the region so that this issue will be fully taken into account in the political process and the economic and financial support for the region and is a basic element in the sustainable stabilization of Syria and the region.
Finally, beyond these questions, we hope with Prime Minister Hariri to strengthen the foundation on which France and Lebanon have founded their exceptional historical relationship. Our two countries are linked by a common heritage, that of language and culture. It is this inheritance that has made Lebanon this link between Europe and the East, between France and the Arab world, and which we want to preserve. It is this legacy that allows us to work hand in hand with our Lebanese friends to face the challenges of the contemporary world. We have agreed with the Prime Minister to work together to develop a roadmap for the Francophonie that will allow us to take concrete steps to further encourage Francophonie in Lebanon, strengthen Lebanon's place in Francophonie and respond to legitimate expectations of the Lebanese towards us.
We are determined to have this cooperation over the long term with an involvement in all areas I just mentioned in order to express the specific relationship between our two countries. President Aoun's state visit on September 25th will confirm this shared commitment to renew the partnership. In addition, I will, on the occasion of both conferences, visit Lebanon in 2018 to follow up and revive the projects we put together.
I reiterate the pleasure I had of receiving you with your delegation at the Elysee, and that France is by your country, your state and the program of reforms that your country is implementing".
PM Hariri said:
"Thank you, Mr. President. It is a great pleasure to come to Paris and meet with you. The relationship between France and Lebanon is a historical relationship at all levels. France always stood by Lebanon's side during the civil war and today also. You spoke of all the issues that we raised and I believe that this relationship between France and Lebanon will continue to improve, especially in your presence.
In the era of the Internet and new technologies, we will establish a new spirit for the Francophonie between our two countries.
The subject of refugees that you mentioned, Mr president, is a very difficult subject for Lebanon because there are more than 1.2 million Syrian refugees. It weighs heavily on the Lebanese economy, but also on security, environment and all sectors. It is a challenge. President Macron's approach is a scientific one. We need to work to find true solutions, particularly through the conferences you talked about.
I thank you very much for this welcome, for your assistance in the framework of the UNIFIL and the international tribunal and for your support to the Lebanese army. I hope to receive you in Lebanon very soon".
Hariri also visited the French Senate where he was received by the President of the Senate Gerard Larcher in the presence of the Lebanese delegation.
Source: National News Agency