BEIRUT — During a meeting between former Lebanese President Michel Aoun and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in Damascus on Tuesday, the latter said that the recent Syrian-Arab rapprochement will have "a positive impact" on Lebanon, the state-run Syrian Arab News Agency reported.
Earlier today, MP Ghassan Atallah (FPM/Koura) confirmed to L'Orient-Le Jour Aoun's visit to Syria, a first since 2009.
According to the report, Assad said he believes "Lebanon's strength lies in its political and economic stability, and that the Lebanese are capable of creating this stability through dialogue and consensus, and most importantly by adhering to principles and not betting on changes."
He also reportedly indicated that "Lebanon's stability is in the interest of Syria and the region in general."
The meeting comes following Syria's re-entry to the Arab League after more than a decade of regional isolation and while Lebanon is in the midst of political negotiations surrounding the election of a new head of state.
"Syria and Lebanon cannot look at their challenges separately from each other," Assad was reported as saying while also noting that the Syrian-Arab rapprochement that took place recently at the Arab Summit in Jeddah "will have a positive impact on Syria and Lebanon."
According to the Syrian Arab News Agency, Assad also said, "Gen. Aoun had a role in preserving the brotherly relationship between Syria and Lebanon for the benefit of both countries."
For his part, former President Michel Aoun said that "the changes in the Middle East are positive signs in the interests of all Arab countries," according to a statement issued by his press office.
He also believed that "Syria's recovery and prosperity will reflect positively on Lebanon."
Turning to the issue of Syrian refugees, Aoun said he informed the Syrian president of "the dangerous position of Europe, which refuses to repatriate refugees, tries to integrate them into Lebanese society, and uses every means possible to prevent their return under the pretext of protecting them."
For his part, Assad affirmed that "Syria is ready to welcome its citizens," noting that "this must take place in coordination between the two countries."
The Syrian agency's press release made no mention of the repatriation of Syrian refugees, a demand which the Lebanese authorities insist on and which regularly causes a stir on the local scene.
Aoun also stressed "the importance of national unity, which the Lebanese hold dear."
Aoun's meeting in Damascus came as Lebanese authorities ramp up efforts to repatriate Syrian refugees, despite rights group calling the move dangerous.
It also comes as Lebanese Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri called for an election session to be held Wednesday, June 14 at 11 a.m. to elect a new head of state. The previous 11 sessions failed amid a lack of consensus and lost quorum.
Lebanon has had no president since Michel Aoun's term ended on Oct. 31, 2022.
The session will pit the candidacy of Sleiman Frangieh, close to Damascus and backed by Amal Movement and Hezbollah, against that of former minister and International Monetary Fund (IMF) regional executive Jihad Azour, backed by the Free Patriotic Movement and several opposition parties.