DC & Beirut set up joint military panel
- 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
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
He also met over the weekend with Lebanese Forces leader Samir
Geagea, Progressive Socialist Party leader Walid Jumblatt and other
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
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
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
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
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
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