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Thank you very much, Mr Prime Minister [of Lebanon, Saad Hariri].
It was only natural from my side - a friend of Lebanon, representing the European Union’s friendship to Lebanon, and to you personally - to be the first high official from the international community to come and visit you here in Beirut, after your return to the capital of your country.
As you said, for the European Union it was a priority to support you in your mission to protect Lebanon.
For us, it has always been and will always continue to be a priority to preserve and continue to build Lebanon's strength, independence, economic development and security.
We were extremely satisfied with your return to Beirut and the resumption of the work of the Cabinet that you chair.
I am particularly happy to be here today to see that the institutions are functioning, are strong, are delivering for the Lebanese people. This is - I know - your personal commitment and it is also the European Union's objective to support you personally and the Lebanese institutions while working for the Lebanese people. This is something very important for us.
I personally visited Lebanon many times, in times where institutions were not particularly functioning. I was glad to see progress in the last years in this respect, with a Cabinet that is working under your leadership, a Parliament that is passing important laws - like the electoral reform recently - or working on the budget, and institutions and a President [Michel Aoun] who have managed the crisis in a remarkable manner.
For the European Union, seeing institutions of Lebanon working together, political forces in Lebanon working together in unity with a strong re-commitment to the disassociation policy - that we now expect to be turned into action, implemented at full and respected - is a fundamental priority as friends. Because for us, Lebanon - as you know - is a close friend and the European Union will always be there.
We discussed several issues you mentioned, in particular the support that the European Union gives to Lebanon both to the security forces - for us the work that the Lebanese armed forces are doing is essential, the Rome Conference in February will be key in this respect. We will also continue to work on the economic development, the investments, the investment environment.
Also with the Brussels conference in April, we will work on the future of Syria and the region, moving – hopefully – to a next phase where we can start, if the political conditions are there, to see how the international community can support the region and the future of Syria, as we start to plan for a future reconstruction based on a political agreement that has still to be reached in Geneva.
I would also like to say one word on Jerusalem. Mr Prime Minister [Saad Hariri], I fully share your words. Also on this, I believe that Lebanon and the European Union stand on the same side and share the same position.
I had the chance to express this position clearly, both to Secretary of State [of the United States, Rex] Tillerson, but also to Prime Minister [of Israel, Benjamin] Netanyahu last week.
The European Union believes that the only solution to the conflict in the Middle East is a two-state solution, with Jerusalem as the capital of the State of Israel and the capital of the State of Palestine along the 67 lines. I know this is exactly what the countries of the League of Arab States have discussed and we share the same appreciation for the Arab Peace Initiative as a basis for restarting negotiations.
I am sure that we will continue to work on this together.
Again, let me stress the fact that I am personally very happy to see you here in Beirut today. And that for me it was important to come and see you as soon as possible, to discuss the way forward for strengthening the Lebanese institutions, for the Lebanese institutions to deliver on what the Lebanese people want, and to plan the future work that we can continue to do together.
Thank you very much for all the strength you have showed.
Q. Will the EU facilitate the return of Syrian refugees in Lebanon to their home country?
As you know, Lebanon is hosting many Syrian refugees. Europe is also hosting many refugees from Syria, as well as other countries like Jordan or Turkey.
Our position is the same position as the entire international community and the United Nations: for us the return of Syrians who will want to return to Syria has to happen in the moment when this can be guaranteed in a secure, safe and dignified manner, on a voluntary basis.
We are looking forward for that moment to come. I have the impression that it is not yet the moment for doing this. The situation in Syria is still tenser than some want us to think - unfortunately.
But as I said, we will work at the Brussels conference in April next year to start preparing with the rest of the international community the ways in which this can possibly be happening in the future.
This is going to be linked to a political solution of the conflict under the UN auspices in Geneva and we are mobilising all our resources, including our economic resources, to encourage the parties to find this political solution.
We have to make sure that every single Syrian, who is today outside of Syria, will be protected, safe and would feel at home in the future Syria. This requires not only a situation that calms down from a military point of view, but also a political environment that guarantees the rights and the lives of every single Syrian who is outside of the country today.
Q. How important for you is the disassociation policy of Lebanon? Could it lead to much more engagement from the EU towards Lebanon?
For us, as I said, Lebanon is extremely important - the stability of Lebanon is important, the unity of Lebanon is important, which leads me to say that the disassociation policy of Lebanon is important. Because my impression is that it would be very difficult to have unity and determination and to protect Lebanon as the Prime Minister [Saad Hariri] wisely said, if this disassociation policy is not implemented at full.
So, for us it is a key element - we expect all political forces to fully implement the disassociation policy they committed to, and we are ready to accompany in all possible manners.
The European Union is probably the only power in the world that has relations with all the actors in the region and we invite everybody to show restraint, to respect Lebanon, its stability, its sovereignty, its independence and its unity. We will continue to do so as well as we will continue to accompany the Prime Minister [Saad Hariri], the government, the President [Michel Aoun], the Parliament, the institutions, the army in what I believe can be a bright future for this country and its citizens.