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Dec 8, 10:04 AM EST

Lebanon PM seeks international support at Paris summit


AP Photo
AP Photo/Thibault Camus

PARIS (AP) -- Lebanon's prime minister appealed for support for his country from world powers at a summit convened by France on Friday to bolster Lebanon's institutions as it emerges from a bizarre political crisis.

Saad Hariri, who scrambled Lebanese politics by resigning from his post last month and then rescinding the move, has turned to Lebanon's global backers to endorse a policy of "dissociation" that many hope will extract the tiny country from the escalating rivalry between Saudi Arabia and Iran.

In Paris, he received the reassurances he was looking for.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said the United States and other attendees wanted to help Lebanon move forward on security and prepare for national elections slated for May. He added that it was critical to ensure the disengagement of the militant group Hezbollah from regional conflicts, including Yemen's civil war.

French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said Belgium would host a conference next year to find ways to help Lebanon handle its massive refugee population.

Lebanon has been buffeted by regional rivalries and the war in neighboring Syria. The country is hosting more than 1 million Syrian refugees - close to a quarter of its own population - and Lebanese leaders say it needs international support.

Hariri said Lebanon was "paying a very big price on behalf of the entire world" when it comes to the refugee crisis, which he said has cost the Lebanese economy more than $20 billion since the Syrian conflict began six years ago.

He called for investment in Lebanon, support for its security services, and a resolution to the refugee question that has dominated domestic politics since 2012.

It was the first major gathering of key nations to discuss Lebanon's future since a crisis erupted following Hariri's shock resignation last month while in Saudi Arabia. The move appeared to have been orchestrated by the Gulf kingdom as a message to Iran to reign in its Lebanese proxy, the Shiite militant group Hezbollah.

Hariri, who is backed by Saudi Arabia, threw Lebanon into turmoil with his resignation and renewed a vigorous debate over foreign interference in Lebanese affairs. Lebanon's political parties depend on considerable support from regional powers for funds, security, and influence.

Hariri officially rescinded his resignation this week, saying Lebanon's political parties had reached an agreement to distance the country from regional conflicts - such as the war next door in Syria.

As the crisis unfolded, Macron led diplomatic efforts to restore Hariri to his post and convince him to stay on as prime minister. The United States expressed support, recognizing Hariri as one of its chief partners in the Middle East.

On Friday, Macron said the international community must "stay mobilized" for Lebanon's peaceful future.

"Lebanon's stability is not just essential for its own residents," he said. "It is so for the entire region, already very affected by the violence of conflicts."

"For Lebanon to be protected from these crises, it is fundamental that all Lebanese parties and all regional players respect the cardinal principle of non-interference," Macron added. "Recent events showed that the involvement of Lebanese militias in the conflicts that are damaging the Mideast cannot continue without exposing Lebanon, and all its parties, to collateral damage."

Hariri said he was "personally grateful" to the French president and that Lebanon was able to weather its crisis thanks to its international partners. He said the country's many parties have affirmed their "commitment to dissociation from regional conflicts."

He has tried to spin the whole affair as a "positive shock" designed to shake Lebanon's political class into doing something about foreign influence in Lebanon.

Tillerson echoed that logic on Friday, saying he thought developments in Lebanon have proceeded in a "very positive way."

"Perhaps even more positive than before," he said, "because there have been very strong statements of affirmation for Lebanon, which will only be helpful."

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Issa reported from Beirut. Associated Press writer Angela Charlton in Paris contributed to this report.

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