BEIRUT: Russia's Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov reiterated Monday his country's willingness to help with the repatriation effort of Syrian refugees, while his Lebanese counterpart Gebran Bassil maintained that their return should not be tied to a political resolution to the conflict.
During a joint news conference in Moscow, Bassil said that a distinction should be made over "refugees and economic migrants," before stressing the need for cooperation between both sets of ministries to steamroll their return.
"There is no reason for them to remain, some parts in Syria are safe and stable," he said.
Lebanon's caretaker Foreign Minister also maintained that Lebanon should act as a platform for the economic restructuring of Syria and that Beirut would cooperate with Moscow.
He also called for Russian companies to take part in a new tender to develop potential oil and gas deposits deep in Lebanon's offshore blocks.
"This would add to the stability of the region," he said.
Meanwhile, Lavrov maintained that Lebanon should not be held hostage by the refugee crisis before expressing his opposition to foreign intervention in Lebanon's affairs.
"Lebanon should not become a bargaining chip in geopolitical games and a hostage to the Syrian crisis," he told reporters, in reference to the continued deadlock over the country's Cabinet negotiations.
Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri, backed by Saudi Arabia, has also refused to cooperate directly with the Syrian regime while seeking Russia's mediation in the repatriation effort.
Russia has taken a leading role in facilitating the return of refugees, estimated at around 1.5 million by Lebanese authorities as hundreds of displaced began returning home.
A joint Lebanese-Russian commitee was formed to establish a number of centers in refugee-populated areas.
Earlier this month, over 800 refugees departed the area of Shebaa despite the United Nations Higher Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) arguing that it was not safe for them to return.
Bassil and the UNHCR have been locked in a year-long feud over the displaced, with the FM blasting the "UNHCR's intimidation campaign against the refugees."
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