Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri and German Chancellor Angela Merkel held a joint press conference at the Grand Serail after their participation in the Lebanese-German economic roundtable.
"I had the honor to receive Chancellor Angela Merkel and the accompanying delegation.
Her visit to Lebanon at this delicate time is proof of the importance that Germany attaches to Lebanon's political and economic stability. The visit is also an occasion to consolidate the excellent historical relations between our two countries.
I thank her for Germany's great support for Lebanon, especially in terms of humanitarian assistance to alleviate the repercussions of the Syrian displacement crisis.
Despite considerable efforts, the Syrian displacement is far greater than Lebanon's capacity to withstand.
In this regard, there is a need to continuously expand basic humanitarian assistance to include, in addition to the displaced, the host communities. But the most important is the implementation of development projects that improve the livelihoods of host communities and provide job opportunities for the Lebanese hosting their displaced brothers.
We discussed together the role that Germany can play in helping Lebanon implement the priorities set by the Lebanese government at the Brussels II Conference, by supporting the project to eradicate poverty in Lebanon and supporting the implementation of the national strategic framework for Technical and Vocational Education and Training TVET prepared by the Lebanese government in cooperation with UNICEF and the International Labor Organization.
I reiterated to Mrs. Merkel the position of the Lebanese Government that the permanent and only solution for the Syrian displaced is to return to Syria in a safe and dignified manner.
During our talks, we review the vision of the Lebanese government for stability, growth and employment opportunities that we presented at the CEDRE conference two months ago in Paris, to meet the great economic and social challenges.
Of course, as we moved into the implementation phase today, I reaffirmed the commitment of the Lebanese Government to all the reforms mentioned in the CEDRE Conference and the importance of establishing a follow-up mechanism with the international community and expressed the hope that Germany would be a member of the follow-up Committee.
Our meetings were an opportunity for an in-depth discussion of the situation in the region. I assured Ms. Merkel of Lebanon's commitment to UN Security Council Resolution 1701 and thanked her for Germany's contribution to UNIFIL. I also thanked her for Germany's support for the Special Tribunal for Lebanon, which is looking into the assassination of Prime Minister Rafic Hariri and his comrades.
The political forces in Lebanon are unanimous on the need to maintain internal stability at a time when the region is experiencing serious disturbances and unanimous to commit to the disassociation policy from the affairs of the Arab states, which is a commitment that the next government will follow.
It also affirmed Lebanon's continued commitment to the Arab peace initiative adopted by the Beirut Summit and thus our attachment to Jerusalem as the capital of the State of Palestine.
Finally, I would like to reiterate my thanks to the Chancellor and the accompanying delegation for their visit to Beirut and for the fruitful meetings that we have had together."
Chancellor Merkel made the following statement: "Thank you so much Prime Minister Hariri. I was very pleased to accept the invitation that you extended to me last year during your visit to Germany. I want to congratulate you on the elections and on your designation to form the government. I also visited the Speaker and congratulated him and I will be visiting the President.
We came with a delegation that includes parliamentarians and an economic delegation and it is clear that our aim is to strengthen the parliamentary and economic cooperation between Lebanon and Germany.
The timing is very suitable because the CEDRE conference presents a good foundation for this cooperation. I thank the readiness of the Lebanese government to include Germany in the bodies that will help to move forward with the necessary structural reforms in Lebanon and we are keen to implement the promises given to Lebanon.
We witnessed today, when we participated in the economic roundtable, the existence of tangible plans by your government regarding investments and this is for the interest of the people in Lebanon. I think that Germany will offer good contribution in the field of power and waste management. The chambers of commerce and industry explained today that there will be a chamber of commerce here in Lebanon and there was an agreement on the outlines. I think this is very important for the SMEs in Germany especially in terms of your plans to develop free economic zones and reduce bureaucratic steps.
There are a lot of things that we can do and I believe that Lebanon is a good starting point for the activities in the region. The economic development is a priority for the first time since the civil war.
Many schools in Lebanon are working in shifts and Germany is committed to help and support Lebanon by offering humanitarian relief and supporting humanitarian organizations. We want to contribute to reaching a political solution in Syria that would enable the Syrian refugees to return to Syria, and we are cooperating with the international organizations and with the UNHCR.
And just as the Prime Minister said, the return of the refugees must take place when safe conditions are available. Lebanon is facing difficult circumstances, and here we are seeing an example of how religious minorities coexist with each other, and you are giving a good example for many other countries in the world on how people can coexist despite differences.
Germany has supported for many years the UNIFIL and we are committed to continue the support to reach stability in the whole region. Thus, I thank you for the time I spent here and I hope that my visit will contribute in expanding the efforts in this regard".
Question: Mrs. Chancellor I would like to hear from you how easy or difficult it is to work with a government where a number of ministers actually seem to expect help for the return of the refugees rather than keeping them here. Would you also support financially the return of refugees to Syria?
Merkel: My visit here is clearly a visit to support Lebanon, its government and strengthen the relations between our two countries. We want to fulfill the hopes of the Lebanese people for more prosperity, more growth, less sovereign debt and more investment possibilities.
I have great respect for the fact that you have 4.5 million people and host more than 1 million refugees. You can imagine the dimension of the task that your country has to shoulder and we wish to stand by your side and support you. I met with representatives of UN agencies and Lebanese officials. I try to come out in favor of doing operations that allow refugees to return in cooperation with UN agencies. Tensions arise but it is very clear that Lebanon has shown that even with a government that comprises members of different ethnics and religious groups, it can find compromises and solutions and I wish you to find the same in the issue of refugees.
Question: Prime Minister Hariri, you announced reforms but can you tell us what you wish to do because the donor conference and also the IMF today asked for money for Lebanon when you have concrete proposals on reforms
Hariri: First of all, I would like to say when it comes to refugees, this is a humanitarian issue and I believe that if we don't deal with this issue in a humanitarian manner we would lose our humanity because in the past Lebanon has suffered civil war and people hosted us so it is our duty to host and receive these refugees and provide them with the best means for living and ultimately returning to Syria.
If the world doesn't look at the issue of refugees in a humanitarian manner it would lose its humanity.
Lebanon does not seek to only receive funds for refugees and for that we presented the CEDRE project in Paris and Germany, who supported the recovery of our economy which would first provide the Lebanese with job opportunities. We are considering a solution that we have carefully studied with a number of countries and other international organizations, the World bank, Germany and France in order to move forward with our economy.
The Lebanese cannot bear this huge influx of refugees without economic growth in the country and for that, our main focus is economic growth which would then create job opportunities, promote the private sector which is considered the biggest employer of Lebanese youth, and this would help solve our economic situation and alleviate the crisis in our country. I would like to reconfirm one thing, as prime ministers, as countries, we have the humanitarian duty of considering the situation of these people, and if we lose our humanity what else is left in the world to defend? And for that, Lebanon remains firmly attached to our position that the refugees return to their country as soon and safely as possible, but at the same time this does not mean that we will turn our back on our sisters and brothers who in the past have stood beside us.
Question : Chancellor Merkel, will Germany be accepting more refugees and if so, how many?
Merkel: We haven't discussed this at the moment. As you know Germany has taken in a large number of Syrian refugees and we think that there are also good reasons for hosting refugees close to their homes as the Prime Minister has said. We see our job as being faithful partners when it comes to financing these projects. I visited a school where children are taught in two shifts and there I was told what could be possible if we respect the commitment we made. We will increase these commitments, donate a large amount to humanitarian organizations this year, will not leave Lebanon to its own resources and I am really impressed with the commitment with which teachers are offering programs for Lebanese children and Syrian refugees.
These are wonderful projects, there is a lot of personal commitment and this has really shown me how good it is that we put money into this.
Question: In Germany, there is a problem with gangs and organized crime by people of Lebanese origin. What is your response?
Hariri: Any Lebanese citizen in any country in the world must respect the laws of the state in which he lives. This is essential for us. There is a great security cooperation between Germany and Lebanon in terms of fighting crime. Any Lebanese in Germany must respect these laws.
I also have challenges in my government regarding the displaced in Lebanon, and therefore, Mrs. Merkel and us have the same problems, but the basis is how to resolve this issue and not complicate it.
Question: On Sunday you have a meeting with heads of state and government in Europe. What about the preparations for this meeting?
Merkel: I think that the government coalition will face the tasks it has undertaken and has already done many tasks for the meeting on Sunday. It is a consultative working meeting. There will be no final declaration but we try to talk about the issue of refugees in general. So we will talk with all countries about the issue of refugees. It is a consultative meeting.
Question: How would you reassure those who considered all the assistance being provided by the international community to the refugees as an introduction for their naturalization on the long term?
Hariri: I believe that our constitution is very clear when it comes to naturalization and its rejection. No political party will violate our constitution in that sense. We heard talk about naturalization also about the Palestinian refugees. But were they naturalized? I don't think so. What I always say is that the concerns of certain Lebanese are protected by the constitution. All we have to do is uphold our constitution and no country in the work can force us to naturalize one individual. What we have to do is abide by the constitution and cooperate with the international community to guarantee the safe and dignified return of the refugees to their country. At the same time the international community is working on solving the Syrian crisis and so we need to remain confident in our constitution and ourselves, knowing that this will never lead to naturalization. We heard this about the Palestinian refugees and it did not happen and it will not happen with the Syrians.
Source: National News Agency