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Alfano: “We confide in Lebanon’s capacities” (AN NAHAR)

 1. What is the aim of your upcoming visit to Beirut at this point in time?

By visiting Lebanon, I will bring my personal testimony of the support and sympathy of Italy and of the Italians for Lebanese institutions and people, with whom we have extremely sound friendship ties founded on common historical and cultural roots. For the Italian Government, Lebanon is an example of how political pluralism and dialogue, albeit with great difficulty, can contribute to the stability of a region afflicted by crises and conflicts. Italy has always stood by Lebanon in all the most delicate moments of its history and therefore wants to express its closeness all the more now, in a phase so important for the consolidation of the Country’s political and institutional process. The political dialogue between our two Countries is supported by our solid cooperation. Our military contingent has been present in the south of Lebanon ever since 1978, offering targeted bilateral assistance to the Armed Forces and we also cooperate with the Government Security Forces to enable them to meet the numerous challenges in which they are currently engaged. We also have intense cultural exchanges and we cooperate in the mutual achievement of economic and industrial development.    

2. You are going to Beirut at a time in which a political crisis is looming in Lebanon in the light of the fact that the parliamentary elections might not be called within the set deadline. Will you have a clear message to transmit to Lebanese authorities, especially seeing that the European Union has already expressed its concern over the matter?

The stability of Lebanon is a priority for Italy. And this stability is grounded on the solidity of institutions, so that they may be able to guide the Country and develop policies. We support the agreement that Lebanese political forces have succeeded to close after long negotiations and that has made it possible to elect the President of the Republic and establish the Government. I confide in Lebanon’s capacity to reach a political agreement that may guide them to the next Parliamentary elections with a clear prospect for the future. Together with the partners of the international community who have most at heart the fate of Lebanon, Italy appeals to the collective sense of unity and of responsibility of the political forces engaged in making an effort to reach an agreement on the election system.

3. Italy ranks among Lebanon’s top trade partners and is consequently interested in the situation in Lebanon. How do you see the situation in Lebanon six months after the election of the President of the Republic? Does Italy feel at ease in dealing with Lebanon’s new leaders?

On the part of Italy, there is utmost interest in strengthening our bilateral relations. Lebanon’s renewed stability in the wake of the taking office of the new top institutional authorities and in the hope of a forthcoming agreement on the election law between political forces, can represent an additional stimulus for Italian entrepreneurs to look at this Country as an important partner and not only as a market outlet for its goods, which are greatly appreciated by the Lebanese, and also as a platform around which to cooperate in joint ventures with Lebanese businesses in order to penetrate important markets in the Middle East and in Africa. We are Lebanon’s largest trade partner in Europe and the second-largest at global level and we are greatly interested in consolidating this important relationship.  

4. You know that Lebanon faces one of the most dangerous challenges, that of hosting more than 1.5 million Syrian refugees. Despite all the expressions of international solidarity with Lebanon, international support remains very limited compared to the enormous needs deriving from the large number of refugees. Does Italy intend to play a role in increasing European and international aid to Lebanon?

The refugee crisis in Lebanon is very important for us. We Italians know very well what it means to rescue and host, albeit in smaller numbers than Lebanon, thousands of refugees seeking safety and better living conditions in Europe. We know the effort it takes to offer a shelter to these people, not only in economic terms but also its possible social and humanitarian repercussions. Lebanon deserves respect and support for the generosity that it has been showing over the last five years in hosting almost two million refugees despite all the difficulties that this implies for the Country, its infrastructure, its economic system and its social equilibrium. The European Union, with the firm support of Italy, has filled the role outlined in the Brussels Conference which was convened last April and that I attended. Within that context the EU, in the person of the Union’s High Representative, Federica Mogherini, urged a more cohesive and assertive response by the international community, and succeeded to mobilise a sizable amount of resources in Europe and elsewhere. The effective speech by Prime Minister Hariri in Brussels certainly contributed in maintaining high the attention on the situation in Lebanon. For us, this State is a priority; it has been up to now and it will continue to be in the years to come. Italy will not only continue to devolve part of its financial commitment to meet the humanitarian emergency caused by the war in Syria but also hopes to be able to activate a profitable cooperation with the Lebanese Government for interventions in the infrastructure sector. Turning back to the issue of refugees, I would like to recall that it will be necessary to find a solution enabling both Syrians to return to their Country in conditions of security and in compliance with international law and Lebanon to dedicate energy and resources to getting back on track towards prosperity and growth. This solution hinges on finding a political solution to the Syrian conflict, to which the international community has been intensely devoting its efforts during the past few weeks.

5. Lebanon supports the principle of stabilizing security areas in Syria to where Syrian refugees could gradually be transferred. Do you think that such a solution could be implemented? Do Italy and Europe support it?

We look with interest and hope at the agreements signed in Astana although we are aware of the fact that their enforcement by warring parties represents the real test bench. Many technical aspects still need to be clarified, otherwise we risk stopping at making declarations of principle. These six years of war have shown that declarations of principle are not enough; we need targeted and enforceable agreements accompanied by mutual signs of détente, also from the humanitarian point of view. This is the challenge that Syria and the international community are faced with today and we must all make an effort to act to make the logic of dialogue take root in the hottest zones of the conflict. This is a fundamental premise which Italy is working to promote within multilateral forums and in the intense sequence of bilateral meetings taking place to expedite a political transition and to enable the return of refugees in conditions of security.  

6. How do you judge the developments in the Syrian crisis that directly affect Lebanon and the other Countries in the Region? Do you see the possibility of finding a political solution on the short term?

Italy of course supports all constructive solutions favouring a political solution to the Syrian crisis. I would just like to quickly mention the excellent work done up to now by the UN Special Envoy Staffan de Mistura, who has an in-depth knowledge of this complex area of the world, as the Lebanese well know. I have continuous contacts with de Mistura, whom I am planning to meet in two weeks’ time in Rome. Italy is also carefully working to promote the prospect of a political solution hinging on dialogue also within the Security Council. We also consider of fundamental importance the dialogue that the United States is promoting with Russia on the Syrian dossier and we hope that it will soon bear its fruits. We must work to achieve a political solution. The G7, of which Italy holds the rotating chairmanship, dedicated special attention to the Syrian crisis at the Ministerial meeting in Lucca, extending the debate to some of the region’s most important Countries. The approach that arose from the meeting, and that can be found in the Conclusions to the G7 meeting in Lucca, hinges on the forthright but constructive engagement of Russia on the importance of facilitating the de-escalation of violence and on the priority goal of achieving a political solution through the UN-led Geneva negotiations and in compliance with Resolution 2254. The upcoming G7 Summit scheduled for next week in Taormina, Sicily, will be called on to confirm this approach, also in consideration of the latest developments in the dossier.   

7. Are Italy and Lebanon coordinating on the dossier of terrorism?

Terrorism represents a common threat which our Countries are called upon to meet. We know the commitment with which security forces are facing this threat caused by the geographic proximity to an area of crisis. This is precisely why Italy is offering its collaboration on this dossier. We also know that the European Union intends to strengthen cooperation between Lebanon and the Member States in this area. On the part of Italy, I confirm that we are fully willing to intensify the areas of cooperation with Lebanon. I would also like to recall the training that our Armed Forces are providing to the LAF in several training centres in Lebanon in highly specialised operating fields. The Italian Government and Parliament have earmarked funds for this bilateral cooperation between our two Countries for the fourth consecutive year in order to enhance Lebanon’s capacity to face up to the threats to its security. The training offered addresses several areas of the security sector, in which we collaborate to meet the needs and requests of the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF). We certainly hope that the LAF, together with UNIFIL, will be able to enhance their “footprint” in southern Lebanon in order the consolidate the presence and authority of the State in a highly sensitive area, in line with the aims of Resolution 1701 and of the other UN Security Council resolutions.