Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Siniora wins UAE backing for Paris III

Siniora wins UAE backing for Paris III
By Hani M. Bathish
Special to The Daily Star

BEIRUT: Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora met Tuesday with UAE President Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed al-Nahyan in Abu Dhabi as part of his regional tour to gather support for an upcoming international donor conference for Lebanon. Siniora arrived late Tuesday in Doha, where he will discuss with Qatari officials the emirate's participation in the Paris III conference, to be held January 25. Speaking to reporters in Doha, Siniora announced that he would meet with Arab League chief Amr Moussa at the Paris III conference. "Moussa will be present at the Paris III conference and we will meet," he said. "Hopefully, after I finish my Arab tour, he will be the first person I will call." Siniora also reiterated his support for an initiative launched by Moussa in December to broker an agreement between Lebanon's divided political camps, saying: "We completely support [Moussa's] initiative and any rumor of a dispute or a postponement is untrue." Speaking earlier from Abu Dhabi, Siniora insisted that the current Lebanese government is "100 percent legal and constitutional," despite the fact that the Shiite sect is no longer represented in the Cabinet. "Problems are not solved in the streets but through dialogue, and any solution has to be based on a foundation of balance and commitment," Siniora said, adding that all citizens should feel they are contributing to the progress of their country. Sheikh Khalifa was reported to have voiced his support for the Lebanese government, the Lebanese people and efforts being made to end the current political deadlock. Khalifa was also said to have voiced his complete support for the Paris III conference and expressed his keenness to assist reconstruction efforts in Lebanon. Acting Foreign Minister Tarek Mitri, Finance Minister Jihad Azour and Economy and Trade Minister Sami Haddad also attended the meeting.

Siniora later held a private meeting with Khalifa. The premier will travel to Jordan after his meetings in Qatar.

Speaking to members of the Lebanese community in Abu Dhabi, Siniora said his reform program is "a continuous and dynamic process that is not closed, static or carved in stone." Siniora said the reform plan, which "was at one time a vital political issue" was now a matter of "national urgency" that needed to be resolved quickly. He reiterated that there were no political strings attached to the reform plan. "This reform plan did not drop from the sky one or two months ago, everyone knows, and those who do not know can find out that these reform plans are 100 percent Lebanese," he said. "These ideas have been around for the last 10 years, but have been subject to delays and a lack of initiative."

Long-term losses in Lebanon as a result of the "criminal" Israeli war on Lebanon in the summer of 2006 will reach $10 billion over the next four years, Siniora said. "We strive, with our friends and brothers, to obtain aid that [Lebanon] deserves after suffering 30 years of internal strife, invasions and Israeli occupation, which have destroyed the country," he added. "Add to that a Syrian presence that later became a source of pressure on the country's political and economic life." Acknowledging that "at one time" Syria had a positive role in Lebanon, the premier said: "We want to build a healthy and proper relationship with our Syrian brothers, based on mutual recognition and respect and working together for the betterment of both countries and the Arab world." Siniora said that expectations for growth in Lebanon in 2006 had dropped "drastically" as a result of the summer war with Israel, and cost the country 11 percent of its GDP, as well as the long-term impacts in the years to come. "Some could well ask, with regards to Paris III, 'why the rush?'" the premier said. "Shouldn't we have waited until we arrived at a consensus? Of course, we should have consensus on all matters of great importance, but need and circumstances do not wait. This does not mean that changes and additions to the [reform] program cannot be made." Siniora said discussions had been held with all parties on the reform plan before the summer war, and that many of the suggestions made during the meetings had been incorporated into the program.

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