Bassil-Muallem Meeting Deepens Lebanese Division on ‘Normalization’

Beirut- Lebanese Foreign Affairs Minister Jebran Bassil’s meeting with his Syrian counterpart Walid al-Muallem in New York has deepened divisions among Lebanon’s politicians and driven sharp criticism from some officials.

Syrian Arab News Agency reported on Friday that the meeting, which had taken place on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly, tackled bilateral ties, including political and economic cooperation, as well as other fields.

“Syrian-Lebanese relations are firm no matter how much some (sides) try to put obstacles in their way,” SANA quoted Muallem as saying.

He also tackled some developments in the field of combating terrorism, the Astana process and the de-escalation zones, stressing that Syria will go ahead in fighting terror.

For his part, Bassil highlighted the importance of relations and coordination between Syria and Lebanon in various fields, SANA said. He pointed out that the positive developments witnessed in the Syrian battlefield and the victories of the Syrian army over terrorism will force those taking a negative stance from Syria to reconsider their position.

Lebanese Forces head Samir Geagea was among the first to react to SANA’s report, saying “When the refugees know that their return depends on coordination with Bashar Assad’s regime, they will not return because it was Assad himself who displaced them.”

High-ranking officials in the Future parliamentary bloc also did not shy away from expressing annoyance from Bassil’s move, although they seemed to express understanding with his step out of their “keenness to their relationship with the Lebanese president and to preserve the government’ stability.”

“What we warned against – falling in the lap of the Syrian regime that is labeled with crimes and eradication of its people – began to come to fruition,” Democratic Gathering MP Akram Chehayeb said in a statement, adding that the Syrian regime is also responsible for the refugee crisis in Lebanon.

“The photo that media outlets are circulating on the meeting with the foreign minister of the criminal regime in Damascus doesn’t align with working towards national unity, which we have called for and that we are working for,” Chehayeb added.

Recent calls for the normalization of relations between Lebanon and the Assad regime on several issues have drawn criticism from various sides.