French President Francois Hollande, on a brief visit to Beirut, has pledged to “protect” Lebanon against threats of destabilisation caused by the conflict in neighbouring Syria.
“France will spare no effort to guarantee Lebanon’s independence, unity and security,” Hollande said at a joint news conference with Lebanese President Michel Sleiman on Sunday.
France is determined “to oppose with all its strength any bid to destabilise Lebanon,” he added.
Sleiman said at the news conference that he reaffirmed to Hollande “Lebanon’s commitment to avoid the negative repercussions of the (Syrian) crisis”.
The visit comes two weeks after Lebanon’s opposition called on Prime Minister Najib Mikati, whose cabinet is dominated by Hezbollah, a powerful Syrian government ally, to resign.
The Syrian opposition accuses Beirut of complicity with the regime of embattled Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, a former powerbroker in Lebanon.
Calls for Mikati to quit were spurred by a massive car bombing in central Beirut last month that killed Wissam al-Hassan, a top security official, in an attack the opposition blamed on the Syrian regime and its allies in Lebanon.
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Since the attack, Sleiman has pressed for all-party talks on forming a new government “that can pull Lebanon out of its impasse”, saying only then can Mikati resign.
France is willing to host a meeting of Lebanese political figures if all parties were represented and if Beirut made an official request for such a gathering, a government source said in Paris.
Hollande said France was ready to help Lebanon probe the murder of al-Hassan, and said “there can be no impunity” for the assassination of Hariri and the security official.
The Beirut stop was a last-minute decision taken by Hollande to express France’s solidarity with Lebanon after the October 19 assassination of al-Hassan, the Internal Security Forces (ISF) intelligence chief.
Hollande later arrived in the Saudi city of Jeddah and discussed Iran and the situation in unrest-hit Syria with Saudi King Abdullah, a spokesman said.
“The president discussed with King Abdullah the peace process in the Middle East, the Iranian nuclear programme, the Syrian crisis, as well as cooperation between both countries,” Romain Nadal told AFP news agency after a two-hour meeting between the leaders.
Saudi Arabia’s official news agency SPA also reported they discussed “developments on the Palestinian issue and the current situation in Syria” in addition to bilateral relations.
“This visit to Saudi Arabia is primarily political,” Hollande had told reporters aboard the aircraft taking him from Beirut to the Red Sea city.
“France plays an active role in the Middle East. We are the most active country on issues concerning Syria, Lebanon, and the peace process” between Israel and the Palestinians, he said.
Paris and Riyadh have “very similar views” on the nearly 20-month conflict in Syria, French sources said, adding that the two leaders would also discuss energy issues including nuclear power.
Hollande earlier this week said he would back more sanctions against the Islamic republic if there were no “concrete acts” from Tehran to prove it was not pursuing a nuclear arms drive.
Iran denies Israeli and Western suspicions that its nuclear programme is a cover for efforts to build an atomic bomb, but has been hit by several rounds of UN and Western sanctions over its activities.