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DC & Beirut set up joint military panel

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    Washington and Beirut set up joint military panel By Hussein Abdallah Daily Star, Lebanon BEIRUT: Lebanon and the United States set up a joint commission on
    Message 1 of 1 , Jan 2, 2009
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      Washington and Beirut set up joint military panel
      By Hussein Abdallah
      Daily Star, Lebanon


      BEIRUT: Lebanon and the United States set up a joint commission on
      Monday charged with organizing their bilateral military relationship.
      The commission was set up after a meeting on Monday between Defense
      Minister Elias Murr and US Assistant Secretary of Defense for
      International Security Affairs Mary Beth Long, who arrived in Beirut
      late on Sunday.

      In a related development, a joint statement by the Lebanese Armed
      Forces (LAF) and the US Embassy said that Beirut and Washington had
      signed three military contracts worth $63 million in US grants to the
      LAF.

      The grants are aimed at providing the LAF with secure communications,
      ammunition and infantry weapons.

      Also on Monday, US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State David Hale
      continued his visits to Lebanese politicians as he met with former
      President Amin Gemayel at the Phalange Party headquarters in Beirut.

      Hale, who was accompanied by US Ambassador Michele Sison, told
      reporters after meeting Gemayel and attending the Phalange Party's
      weekly meeting that the US supported national dialogue among
      Lebanon's rival political parties.

      Hale added that next year's parliamentary elections represented a
      chance for the Lebanese people to "choose their representatives
      freely."

      He also met over the weekend with Lebanese Forces leader Samir
      Geagea, Progressive Socialist Party leader Walid Jumblatt and other
      politicians.

      In response to the series of meetings, senior Hizbullah official
      Nawaf al-Moussawi told Al-Manar television on Monday that the visits
      by Hale and Long aimed at "reassuring the United States' allies in
      Lebanon."

      In a separate development on Monday, President Michel Sleiman, who is
      expected to head to Jeddah on Sunday to meet Saudi King Abdullah,
      said that national dialogue among rival Lebanese leaders would
      necessarily lead to an agreement over a unified defense strategy for
      Lebanon.

      Speaking to a delegation of Irish legislators who visited him at the
      Presidential Palace, Sleiman stressed the need to find a solution to
      the issue of Palestinian refugees in Lebanon.

      "The perfect solution is recognizing the right of Palestinian
      refugees to return to their homeland," a Presidential Palace
      statement quoted Sleiman as telling the delegation.

      National talks aimed at agreeing on a defense strategy for Lebanon
      were kicked off on September 16 grouping the 14 politicians who
      signed the Doha Agreement last May.

      The first session of talks was held at the Baabda Palace and was
      chaired by Sleiman. The second round is scheduled to take place on
      November 5.

      Reaching an agreement on a national defense strategy has become a
      pressing issue following armed clashes last May between Hizbullah-led
      fighters and pro-government gunmen.

      The fighting led to Hizbullah's briefly taking over large swathes of
      pre-dominantly Sunni western Beirut, a stronghold of Future Movement
      leader MP Saad Hariri.

      Amid the preparations to hold the second round of dialogue, efforts
      to reconcile Christian leaders have recently gained steam in light of
      a reconciliation initiative led by the Maronite League.

      The reconciliation will likely kick off with a meeting between Geagea
      and Marada Movement leader Suleiman Franjieh at the Presidential
      Palace under the auspices of Sleiman.

      Lebanese Forces MP Antoine Zahra told Voice of Lebanon radio station
      on Monday that the meeting was likely to take place in the "coming
      few days."

      Marada spokesman Suleiman Franjieh (a relative of the Marada leader)
      also told the radio station on Monday that the meeting was in the
      offing provided that Franjieh's conditions were met. Marada insists
      that Free Patriotic Movement leader MP Michel Aoun should attend the
      Geagea-Franjieh reconciliation meeting, but the LF is unlikely to
      accept Aoun's attendance if the meeting is not part of a broader
      Christian gathering that includes other leaders.

      Aoun told reporters after a meeting of his Change and Reform bloc on
      Monday that "bad intentions" were behind objections to his presence
      at the reconciliation meeting.

      Aoun added that he was not planning to boycott upcoming dialogue
      sessions, although he might "sit and watch" the other leaders talk.

      He also warned of the "fragile" security situation in the North and
      said some extremist cells were active in the area with aim of
      creating instability.

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