Russian FM Sergei Lavrov meets with Lebanon’s Hariri to discuss cooperation between two countries
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov speaks at a news conference at the Kremlin in Moscow on March 24, 2016 following a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin and US Secretary of State John Kerry. (AFP/Andrew Harnik)
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Future Movement Leader Saad Hariri Wednesday discussed with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov means to end Lebanon's crises during a visit to Moscow.
Foreign "meddling in the region's affairs – and especially that of Lebanon – is preventing the election of a head of state," Hariri said during a meeting with the Russian Foreign Minister.
"We appreciate the important role that Russia is playing in the region."
Lavrov expressed his country's keenness to safeguard Lebanon, calling on rival Lebanese leaders to maintain the country's best interest away from foreign interference.
"Russia is continuously cooperating with Lebanese political groups – and not only the Cabinet ... which reflects our interest in preserving the Lebanese community and state institutions," Lavrov said.
He said he hoped Lebanon could overcome its local crises, urging the country's foreign partners to create the necessary circumstances to facilitate the process.
Hariri also called for further cooperation between Lebanon and Moscow in combating terrorism along Lebanon's border and in the region.
The Lebanese army has frequently clashed with Daesh and Nusra Front militants holed up on the outskirts of Lebanon’s northeastern border.
The head of the Future Movement had met with Lavrov upon his arrival to Moscow, Hariri's press office said in a statement.
Also in attendance were Interior Minister Nouhad Machnouk, former MP Ghattas Khoury, Hariri's political adviser, and Hariri’s chief of staff, Nader Hariri and the ex-premier's adviser for Russian Affairs, Georges Chaaban.
Interfax news agency earlier quoted Hariri as saying that "Lebanon is ready to cooperate with Russia militarily and various other matters," but emphasized that Syrian President Bashar Assad "cannot be part of a final solution" to end the crisis in the neighboring country.
Despite his opposition to Assad, Harriri said Syria should remain united.
It isn't clear when the former premier gave his remarks.
Moscow began its air war in support of Assad's troops on Sept. 30, 2015, carrying out strikes on what they designated as "terrorist" targets across the country. The air campaign has been criticized by rebel groups, their Western backers, and rights groups as indiscriminate.
In the last quarter of 2015, Russian airstrikes in Syria likely killed more than 1,000 civilians, according to the Airwars monitoring group.
The London-based group assesses media reports, accounts from rebel groups and non-governmental organizations to compile the estimated toll. It said its provisional view was that between Sept. 30 and Dec. 31, as many as 1,448 civilians were "likely" killed in Russian strikes.
Earlier this month, Russia announced a drawdown but it said it would keep up its support for the regime's battle against Daesh and other extremist groups, but analysts say just 10-25 percent of Russian forces have left Syria.
Hariri flew to Moscow from Paris on his second visit to the Russian Federation in less than a year.
“The Moscow visit is part of Hariri’s flurry of regional and international activity aimed at serving the interests of Lebanon and the Lebanese as well as protecting Lebanon from the repercussions of regional conflicts, namely the war in Syria,” Future Movement MP Atef Majdalani told The Daily Star late Tuesday.
“Hariri maintains relations and friendships with Russian officials and the visit is aimed at boosting these relations,” he continued.