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Russian diplomat urges dialogue with all parties to solve Middle East problems

Russia's Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov has completed his two-day visit to Beirut with several meetings with Lebanese political leaders.

Bogdanov, who is Russian president's special representative for the Middle East and Africa, on Saturday held talks with the country's major Christian politicians, including Michel Aoun, head of the Free Patriotic Movement, and Amin Gemayel, president for six years during Lebanon's 1975-90 civil war.

The Russian diplomat also met heads of Lebanese parliamentary factions from the Sunni-led al-Mustaqbal (Future Movement) bloc and Shi'ite group Hezbollah - Fouad Siniora and Mohammad Raad. In the afternoon, Bogdanov visited Druze leader Walid Jumblatt, head of the Progressive Socialist Party (PSP), and discussed the situation in Lebanon and Syria with Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah.

"We have discussed with our Lebanese friends what is happening now in the Middle East," Bogdanov said. "The situation here remains dangerous and alarming. It is impossible to find any fundamental solution to the problems without a dialogue involving all concerned parties."

Local media paid particular attention to the Russian diplomat's visit, happening at a time when the situation on the Syrian-Lebanese border escalated. At least six Lebanese soldiers were killed on December 2 in a night attack by militants from the al Qaeda-linked Nusra Front who crossed from Syria to the border town of Ras Baalbek.

In this regard Lebanese political forces praised Bogdanov's statement that Russia was ready "to help Lebanon's army, police and security forces to effectively combat terrorist groups". The diplomat urged "to join forces to fight terrorism, which poses a threat not only to the Middle East but to the whole world".

The Russian deputy foreign minister was in Beirut at the invitation of Lebanese Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil. Besides talks in the foreign ministry, Bogdanov also met with Lebanese Prime Minister Tammam Salam, parliament speaker Nabih Berri, former president Michel Suleiman and army chief General Jean Kahwaji.

Bogdanov's visit falls on this year's marking 70 years of diplomatic relations between the two countries.

Russia was committed to supporting Lebanon's sovereignty, territorial integrity and national unity and was against any attempts of interfering into domestic affairs with the aim of destabilising the country, Bogdanov said at a solemn ceremony on Friday.

The diplomat expressed support for "the decisive steps taken by the Lebanese army and law enforcement agencies to fend off terrorist groups." "We are ready to provide our Lebanese partners with the necessary assistance," he said, adding that "the current problems need to be resolved in the constitutional framework through the dialogue between all the political and confessional forces."

Bogdanov confirmed at a meeting with ex-president Michel Suleiman Russia's support for the so-called Baabda Declaration, approved in June 2011, endorsing Lebanon's neutrality regarding the Syrian conflict.

He said Russia facilitated improvement of contacts between the Syrian government and opposition. "We maintain contacts with the government alongside external and internal opposition groups," he said. "Our task is to improve consultations for preparing serious talks without preconditions."

"The Syrians should gather together and start a dialogue. This will make it possible to bring together views on all issues," he said, noting that "the Syrian people will determine the fate of Syria and its future".

The diplomat said the Russian-Lebanese relations were now on an upward trajectory which had been proved by an increase in bilateral trade. "Good prospects open for increasing Lebanese exports to Russia, namely of agricultural goods," Bogdanov said.

It is remarkable that a delegation of local businessmen, headed by Lebanese Economy and Trade Minister Alan Hakim visited Moscow last month to discuss plans to increase supplies of vegetables, fruit, canned goods, cheeses, yogurts and fish to the Russian market as Moscow sought to fill gaps resulting from its food embargo on many imports from the West.

Speaking at Friday's ceremony, Lebanese Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil marked new horizons in the mutually beneficial cooperation with Russia. "We expect to significantly increase the flow of Lebanese goods to Russia," he said. "Besides, we anticipate that Russian companies will have an important role in developing oil and gas reserves on the sea shelf.".

[Source: Itar Tass, Beirut, 07Dec14]

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