Foreign Minister Jebran Bassil has denied that he avoided to meet with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry during his visit to Beirut on Wednesday, saying he could not cancel his trip to China, which is a major investing country.
In an interview with al-Joumhouria newspaper published on Friday, Bassil said: “We were informed about Kerry's visit only 48 hours before” his arrival to Beirut.
“I had a prior engagement in China for a specific conference and the date of my meeting with the Chinese foreign minister had already been set,” Bassil said.
“I couldn't have canceled my visit or changed the date that had been set by a major power such as China, which is interested in investing in Lebanon,” he told the daily.
“Everybody knows about the Chinese state's capabilities in investments,” Bassil added.
The foreign minister attended the sixth ministerial meeting of the China-Arab States Cooperation Forum in Beijing, an event underscoring China's burgeoning ties with the region.
Bassil's denial came as al-Akhbar newspaper reported on Friday that the FM rejected a proposal made by Kerry for the two officials to meet at Rafik Hariri International Airport.
Diplomatic sources told the daily that Kerry's suggestion came over lack of time caused by his lightning visit to Beirut.
But Bassil took it as a “protocol humiliation” and preferred not to discuss the presidential elections crisis with Kerry, the sources said.
They added that the foreign minister would have been embarrassed had Kerry mentioned the candidacy of Free Patriotic Movement chief Michel Aoun, Bassil's father-in-law.
Aoun has never announced his candidacy, saying he would do so only if there was consensus on him as a compromise president.
Lebanon plunged in a presidential deadlock after Michel Suleiman left Baabda Palace on May 25 following the end of his six-year tenure and the failure of parliament to elect a predecessor over differences between the March 8 and 14 alliances.
Meanwhile, the National News Agency quoted Bassil as saying at the end of his talks in China that he discussed with officials in Beijing ways to consolidate economic ties and find more diverse chances for Chinese investments in Lebanon to create employment opportunities.
He said he asked for financial assistance to build the new foreign ministry building, and to help Lebanon confront terrorism by providing it with military aid and overcome the burden of the Syrian refugees.
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