US Asks If Lebanon Could Handle 50,000 Refugees From Syria

Article Summary
US officials have started to question the Lebanese government about how it plans to respond to a growing number of Syrian refugees, writes Daoud Rammal. Sources also report that Western officials are engaged in negotiations with Iran on all regional issues.

“There is nothing new regarding the activities of the US delegates to Lebanon,” confirms one promiment source who often meets with international delegates visiting the country. “US diplomats are now focusing on the Iranian and Syrian issues, specifically that of the Syrian refugees.”

Remarkably, US officials are talking about the issue of Syrian refugees using accurate numbers and statistics. They have asked Lebanese government officials what they plan to do if the number of refugees rises. They are asking, “Will the Lebanese authorities be able to provide food, shelter and basic services to them, especially if the crisis in Syria continues?”

The Americans have told the Lebanese government that they have statistics indicating the presence of “more than twenty thousand displaced Syrians in Lebanon,” and that this number “will grow to reach more than fifty thousand.” They have asked the government what measures it will take in this regard “especially if the presence of the Syrian refugees starts to expand down from the north toward the Lebanese Bekaa [Valley], and the possible implications of that given the politically and religiously diverse environment in Bekaa.” The US officials have drawn connections between these security concerns and their repeated warnings against the possibility of the Lebanese authorities sending some displaced or wounded Syrians back to Syria.

The US delegates see the expulsion of Syrian refugees from Lebanon as a sign that Lebanon has decided to engage in a confrontation with the international community. They have stressed that “Washington is ready to help secure the conditions necessary these refugees to remain in Lebanon, through the provision of money, food, shelter, medical care and other necessities.”

According to the same source, Lebanon’s response and approach to the issue so far have been dictated from a different perspective given the fact that “the social connection between Lebanon and Syria has historical roots.”

He goes on to say that Lebanon “is accustomed to the presence of large numbers of Syrians on its territory during certain seasons, specifically to work in the sectors of agriculture, industry and construction. We do not see the Syrians as refugees, and we refuse to set up camps for them. At the same time, the government seeks to do all it can to keep up with their [increasing] numbers by providing the necessary humanitarian and social aid.”

The security concern remains present in the minds of Lebanese officials. They openly expressed to their American guests that they fear the possibility of security problems associated with the refugees developing on the border areas. They stated, “Lebanon will not allow those [issues] to turn into a hotbed of tension on its territory, in an attempt to distract it from the efforts being undertaken to prevent the extension of the Syrian fire into Lebanon.”

Lebanese officials observing the movements of US and Western delegates to Lebanon conclude that “the Syrian crisis will likely carry on, and all of the attempts to overthrow the Syrian regime have thus far failed. It has been proven that economic pressure does not bring quick results, because Syria can survive for years despite this pressure. And the attempts to win over key figures in the regime, namely from the military, have also failed so far. Also, there are no more than a million demonstrators on the street. Meanwhile, there are explosions, assassinations and weapons entering Syria across the border and unsafe roads.”

On the Iranian file, a US official who visited Beirut recently said that the meetings recently held in Istanbul between the US and the Iranians are “serious and important.”

He adds that “the Iranians are shrewder than everyone; no one knows if the Iranian negotiator is serious or not. At the moment, they are acting seriously with us. Are they maneuvering or not? We do not have the answer — the Iranians are very patient in negotiations, and are highly skilled and professional. There are indications that the negotiations are important because they are no longer limited to the nuclear issue. There are now serious discussions on all regional issues.”

US diplomats now believe what one major Arab country used to say repeatedly: that the goal is to “force and drag Iran into sharing with us when it comes to spheres of influence. The Arabs do not want or accept to break the Iranians. We recognize the progress Iran has made in various fields, and we also acknowledge that they have turned the international sanctions against them to their interest. We are not trying to keep  up with the progress they have achieved, and we do not deny that they now possess many key cards in the region.”

The Lebanese officials in contact with the US say that there are Western voices demanding that the West present a serious offer to Iran in return for a solution for the nuclear issue. The Iranian negotiator might respond: “I do not need anything from you. I have Iraq, Syria and Lebanon and am in a good position. So what is your offer based on? Here, current issues relate to Iraq's and the US’ need for Iranian cooperation. In turn, Iran needs the US to cooperate with it on Syria, as it is capable of obligating its ally Arab regimes to stop the pressure they are exerting on Syrian regime through money, arms, media and diplomacy.”

According to US analyses, a diplomatic solution on the Iranian issue “is more likely to take place after the meetings are transferred from Istanbul to Baghdad. This will represent a qualitative development, as the Iraqis will assume the position of one of the axes of communication between the US and Iranian sides.” This begs the question: “In light of this positive atmosphere, can Israel create problems, regardless of its military capability?” Lebanese officials assert that, “according to the information available to the West, it is difficult for Israel to take any step that would affect the Western-Iranian negotiations.”

Found in: us, syrian crisis, syrian, refugees, refugee issues, lebanese politics, iranian nuclear program

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