France’s far right presidential hopeful Le Pen meets Lebanon’s Aoun to discuss extremism

Published February 21st, 2017 - 06:00 GMT
France's far-right presidential candidate Marine Le Pen speaks during a press conference in Beirut, Lebanon. (AFP/File)
France's far-right presidential candidate Marine Le Pen speaks during a press conference in Beirut, Lebanon. (AFP/File)

French far-right leader Marine Le Pen Monday said that Syrian President Bashar Assad was a “much more reassuring solution” for France than Daesh (ISIS) rule in the country.

“There is no viable and plausible solution other than this binary choice, which is Bashar Assad on one hand and Daesh on the other hand,” Le Pen said after talks with Prime Minister Saad Hariri at the Grand Serail.

The French presidential candidate said that “in the context of policy of the lesser evil, which is a realistic policy, it appeared to me that Assad is obviously today a much more reassuring solution for France than ISIS, if it comes to head Syria.”

Le Pen said that her meeting with Hariri tackled the common viewpoints and the differences in analysis “knowing that France is not Lebanon and that each of us defends ... the interest of his own country.”

She stressed the need to "bring around the table all the nations that want to fight Islamic fundamentalism and Daesh, which are developing in a growing number of countries among which France."

A leading candidate in the French polls, Le Pen is running for president on an anti-immigrant and anti-European Union platform that critics say is a cover for Islamophobia and xenophobia.

Hariri, according to a press office released by his office, told the French presidential hopeful that "Muslims were the first victims of terrorism ... that in fact has no religion," adding that "moderate Muslims, who are the vast majority, are the first targets of extremist terrorism because they are in fact the first bulwark against extremism."

He blasted the "reckless mixing in media outlets and speeches between Islam and Muslims on one hand and terrorism on the other."

Hariri also briefed Le Pen on the refugee crisis in Lebanon, disclosing that the Lebanese government was in the phase of setting a "comprehensive plan" to address the challenges imposed by it.

French far-right leader Marine Le Pen kicked off her meetings on Monday by meeting with Lebanese President Michel Aoun.

“I discussed with the president the mushrooming radical Islam that is raising basic concerns, and means to combat it,” Le Pen told reporters after the meeting.

She urged for cooperation among "vigilant" countries, adding that "Lebanon and France, due to their common history, should become the cornerstone in the struggle against this radicalism."

Le Pen’s visit to Baabda Palace marked her first official one-on-one meeting with a head of state, and was her first of several scheduled meetings with senior Lebanese officials.

Le Pen and Aoun also discussed the lingering Syrian refugee crisis in Lebanon, in addition to matters of common interest.

"It is significant that this crisis cannot continue due to its grave repercussions that impact the economy, health systems and other aspects," she said.

There are 1.01 million Syrian refugees officially registered with the UNHCR in Lebanon, but the Lebanese government estimates the number to be much higher.

The far-right French leader hoped she would be able to receive Aoun in Paris on an official visit if she is elected.

"It would be a great honor," she said.

During the meeting, Aoun said he hoped that the future would bring the people of Lebanon and France closer.

Le Pen will also meet with Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil, Maronite Patriarch Beshara Rai and others.

Le Pen arrived in Beirut on Sunday night. She is accompanied by MP Gilbert Collard, her chief of staff Nicolas Lesage and her political adviser Omar Harfouch.

The National Front leader is hoping to burnish her credentials as a defender of Christians in the Middle East, ahead of France's April 23 presidential elections.

Le Pen's visit comes a month after French Presidential hopeful Emmanuel Macron visited Lebanon.

Macron, 39, is running as an independent in France’s April presidential election. A former investment banker, he served as economy minister under President Francois Hollande’s Socialist government. But Macron quit the post last August after launching his own centrist party, En Marche (On the Move), and is garnering growing support despite being a relative political newcomer. He is third in the polls behind Le Pen and the Les Republicains nominee Francois Fillon.

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