BEIRUT — Syrian President Bashar al-Assad gave a televised interview with Sky News Arabia on Wednesday during which he asserted that his country "does not support any candidate" in the Lebanese presidential election.
The candidacy of Marada Movement leader Sleiman Frangieh is supported by Amal Movement and Hezbollah, as well as by Damascus' allies in Lebanon. Frangieh himself is close to the Assad family.
Lebanon, United States, and Caesar Act
"We have not involved ourselves in resolving the crisis in Lebanon and do not support any candidate," Assad said Wednesday. This declaration is the Syrian president's first statement on this matter in some time.
On June 6, Assad met with former Lebanese President Michel Aoun and stated that "the Arab-Arab rapprochement will have a positive impact on Lebanon and Syria," alluding to Syria's recent reintegration into the Arab League after a ten-year exclusion.
"Lebanon's strength lies in its political and economic stability, and the Lebanese can establish this stability through dialogue and agreement," Assad continued.
The Syrian president also addressed his country's relations with the United States.
"Dialogue with Washington has been initiated for a long time. It has been intermittent and has not led to anything," he said.
L'Orient-Le Jour recently learned from diplomatic sources that Washington has indeed opened a communication channel with the Syrian regime over the last several months, particularly concerning the release of American hostages still in Syria, notably journalist Austin Tice, who has been missing since 2012.
"We have managed to overcome the Caesar Act through various means. It is not our greatest obstacle," Assad continued in his interview.
Enacted in 2020, the Caesar Act is an American law that sanctions any individual, company, or institution engaged in trade with the Assad regime in Damascus, or contributing to the country's reconstruction.
Return of refugees
Assad also addressed the return of the millions of Syrian refugees who were displaced by the civil war.
"The greatest challenge facing the return of refugees is the infrastructure that has been destroyed by terrorism," he said, adding that "the countries that created disorder in Syria are the ones responsible for drug trafficking."
Lebanon, which hosts a significant number of Syrian refugees, is negotiating with authorities in Damascus to facilitate their return.