The Harvard University Club in New York City hosted Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil in an interview moderated by journalist Tara Kangaroo.

Bassil said: "We are ahead of a difficult stage, but we are used to being in such a position. The economic crisis is severe, part of it is our responsibility but the other part is not. Indeed, we have a financial and economic crisis, but we are able to withstand. One of the solutions is displaced Syrians' repatriation, for our economy is incapable of withstanding two peoples."

"Our position is clear; we are in a favor of a peaceful and political solution in Syria through dialogue, but the mere formation of the constitution committee took three years. How long will the solution take? (...) Safe return is the responsibility of the Syrian government," he said.

"There is no health, education or other system capable of meeting the needs of so many displaced people," Bassil affirmed.

On Lebanon's ties with Saudi Arabia, he said: "We have a good relationship with Saudi Arabia, and many are disturbed by Lebanon's position on neutrality in the regional conflict," hoping to further develop ties with the Kingdom.

Asked about US sanctions on Hezbollah, the Foreign Minister replied: "The situation is difficult, but Hezbollah is part of the government and part of the Lebanese fabric, even if that annoys the US administration. We cling to our right to self-defense against Israeli attacks. The best way is to convince Israel to stop its aggressions. We cannot accept that one third of Lebanon's population be described as terrorists."

"There are no lasting enmities or friendships, but lasting interests. It is my duty to preserve my people and [our country's] national unity. We have paid a high price for war, sometimes unjustly. We will not allow the return of civil war. We are not outside international legitimacy. The United Nations' role is to protect small countries, not major powers. Our land is occupied and we have the right to defend ourselves," he went on to say.

Tackling possible sanctions on Lebanon, he replied: "If America does it, it would be a big mistake; one that would tamper with relations. It is not wise to go through with it. I hope they will not make such a mistake."

On the issue of US sanctions on Iran, Bassil said: "I do not think that the blockade of Iran will bear fruit. The adopted policy did not help, and what happened in Iraq is proof. It did not weaken Iran's influence."

Touching on the topic of expatriates, he praised "the ambition of Lebanese expats, which is greater than the size of their country, and therefore they succeed in their countries of expatriation. Our policy is to build a connection between them and their mother country. (...) Their presence abroad is what's bringing balance to the economy," he added in this context.

Confirming his non-interest in the presidency, Bassil stressed that the Lebanese are "peace-loving" and "what we are doing vis-a-vis the Syrian people is our nature and our humanitarian responsibility. They are our friends, our relatives and our neighbors."

"It is in the United States interest to contribute to stability in Lebanon and to support its Army and its financial situation. We recall that America has agreed to support the government of Lebanon, which includes Hezbollah," Bassil concluded.

Source: National News Agency

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