Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil Tuesday called for Syria’s return to the Arab League, during a speech at the fifth Russian-Arab Cooperation Forum in Moscow.
“Every time we meet, there is a vacant chair. ... It is not permissible for Syria to remain outside the Arab fold,” Bassil said, according to a statement from his office.
Syria’s membership in the Arab League has been suspended since 2011, following the outbreak of the country’s civil war.
“Our Arab people are counting on us and are waiting for the Arab League to play an essential role in bringing together Arabs and solving our many problems,” Bassil added.
He described the region’s list of issues as “long and difficult,” but emphasized that addressing the Syrian crisis should take priority.
He added: “Libya and Yemen are waiting for us and we have to take the initiative. Palestine is on the verge of falling apart, for which we must take the initiative, and Sudan and Algeria are not in the best shape either.”
Algeria and Sudan have been rocked by protests in recent weeks. In Algeria, 82-year-old President Abdelaziz Bouteflika resigned earlier this month following public outrage over his candidacy for a fifth term. Last week, Sudan’s military ousted longtime President Omar al-Bashir after four months of protests against his rule.
Bassil also urged increased cooperation between Lebanon and Russia, “not just on the political level but including the economy and all its sectors, from oil and gas in which Russian companies lead the field, to industry, technology, advanced science, organic agriculture and tourism.”
He added that cooperating with Russia is “not directed against anyone and nobody should be concerned.”
“The main objective of this meeting is coordination, cooperation and to find ways to improve life in our Arab region. Arab cooperation with China, Russia, Japan, India, America or the European Union is in the interest of the Arab people. ... It is not a military or political alliance directed against anyone.”
After his speech, Bassil retweeted an OTV report saying that a section of the forum’s final statement had been changed from calling for the “voluntary return” of Syrian refugees to “ensuring the appropriate conditions for a safe and dignified return.” The latter does not necessarily entail returns that are voluntary.
Later in the day, Bassil said in an interview with Russia Today that he rejected the word “voluntary” when describing refugee returns, and called for the international community to direct its aid for refugees toward encouraging their return.
Bassil and President Michel Aoun have on several occasions called for the safe and dignified return for Syrian refugees to their home country, without waiting for a political solution to the conflict there.
The foreign minister also met Saudi Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Adel al-Jubeir on the sidelines of the forum.
On Monday, Bassil had met with his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov in Moscow to discuss bilateral relations.
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