France’s far-right leader and presidential candidate Marine Le Pen on Monday met for the first time with a foreign head of state, holding talks in Beirut with Lebanon’s President Michel Aoun.
“We discussed the long and fruitful friendship between our two countries,” the National Front (FN) leader said after her 30-minute encounter at the presidential palace in the hilltop suburb of Baabda with Aoun, the Middle East’s only Christian president.
Le Pen, who is leading polls of voters’ intentions for the first round of France’s presidential election on April 23, said they also discussed the refugee crisis in Lebanon, where more than one million Syrians have fled from conflict.
The FN leader, whose party takes an anti-immigrant stance, called Sunday for the international community to step up humanitarian aid to keep the refugees in Lebanon. Shunned by European leaders over her party's stance on immigration and anti-EU message, Le Pen's meeting with Aoun aims to boost her international credibility.
Le Pen is also due to meet Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri, an opponent of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. France had mandate power over both Lebanon and Syria during the first half of the 20th century. Rival presidential hopeful and former economy minister Emmanuel Macron visited Beirut on January 24, where he met both Aoun and Hariri.
Le Pen has met few top foreign officials since taking control of the FN in 2011. German Chancellor Angela Merkel has refused to meet with her. And Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy told AFP last week that “a victory of the populists would be the end of Europe”, a clear reference to Le Pen’s call for a referendum on France's EU membership.