Lebanese President Sleiman to make Syria appeal at UN meeting
A Syrian refugee boy sits with his mother as they beg on the sidewalk in Beirut (AFP)
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President Michel Sleiman will deliver an address before the UN General Assembly Tuesday as world leaders gather to discuss the situation in Syria and the fallout on the country’s neighbors amid a spiraling refugee crisis and hopes of a political deal among international rivals.
The Lebanese president, who will speak at midnight Beirut time, will also hold bilateral meetings with US President Barack Obama and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani.
Sleiman’s speech is seen as crucial as it comes ahead of another meeting in New York that will debate how to assist Lebanon as it grapples with a massive refugee crisis.
Over a million Syrians have fled across the border into Lebanon since the start of the crisis there, which has claimed over 110,000 lives in over two and a half years. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees says there are 750,000 Syrian refugees in Lebanon.
Sleiman will deliver a speech before the conference, which will lay out the need for friendly states to support Lebanon, its constitutional bodies and its political, security and economic stability.
He will likely stress the need to aid the Lebanese Army, which is perceived to be the only nonsectarian institution in Lebanon, as well as the country’s neutrality in the Syrian crisis.
Sleiman discussed the repercussions of the Syrian crisis on Lebanon during a meeting Monday with UN and Arab League envoy to Syria Lakhdar Ibrahimi. The president is expected to meet Tuesday with Obama after his speech to the General Assembly, as well as with Rouhani on the sidelines of the meetings.
Hopes are high for a rapprochement between Iran and the US after a deal on chemical weapons in Syria will see President Bashar Assad’s government give up its full arsenal to the international community.
Sleiman will also meet with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and other states involved in the crisis in Syria, in addition to other Arab and foreign leaders.
Lebanon has repeatedly called for international assistance to address the refugee crisis, complaining that pledged assistance from the international community has failed to materialize.
Nearly one in five individuals currently in Lebanon fled the violence in Syria. Lebanese officials say the influx has strained the country’s health care and education systems, as well as Lebanon’s economy.
Lebanon is officially committed to a policy of disassociation from the Syrian crisis, despite the involvement of various Lebanese factions in the civil war there.