The primary goal of the upcoming meeting in New York of the International Support Group for Lebanon is to mobilize international support for Lebanon rather than collect aid, diplomatic sources said Monday, a few days ahead of key talks to be held on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly.
“This is certainly not a pledging conference,” a diplomatic source closely following up on the preparations for the Sept. 25 convention told The Daily Star.
“The meeting aims to send a strong political message,” he added. “Because before you find the money, you have to remobilize the international community to help Lebanon.”
Now collectively operated by a steering committee directly affiliated with the office of U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, the International Support Group for Lebanon is the brainchild of France.
For several months, Paris has actively lobbied for the formation of an international group whose mission is to shield Lebanon against the war in neighboring Syria through supporting Lebanese state institutions.
“France wanted to render practical the consensus over safeguarding Lebanon’s stability that emerged in the joint statement issued by the U.N. Security Council in July,” the source said.
The source outlined the threefold objectives of the International Support Group for Lebanon, saying that supporting the country’s tormented economy and the poorly equipped Army as well as refugee pressure will figure on the agenda of this week’s discussions in New York.
“We are building a case to support Lebanon,” the source pointed out, adding that the international community “was not helping Lebanon the way it should be.”
The source hoped that Thursday’s meeting would engender aid to Lebanon on several levels:
“We don’t have a miracle plan; we are in a laboratory and we’re brainstorming with the Lebanese to come up with a road map.”
In addition to President Michel Sleiman, who will deliver the opening speech, the meeting on Lebanon is expected to be attended by French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres and a representative from the Arab League. It remained unclear whether the foreign ministers of the four other permanent members of the U.N. Security Council would attend.
The source admitted that the weakness of Lebanese state institutions constituted a “big hindrance” with regard to the collection of pledges and also mentioned “shoddy strategies” on the part of the Lebanese state.
The source however highlighted that the formation of a new government was not a condition for holding future donor conferences to help Lebanon in various fields.
“Expectations over the Thursday meeting should not be high,” said the source. “We are hoping to start a certain dynamic vis-a-vis Lebanon but we just cannot give money randomly.”
But according to the source, the recent assessment carried out by the World Bank on the economic losses incurred by Lebanon as a result of the conflict in Syria, as well as the five-year action plan presented by the Lebanese government to boost the capabilities of the Lebanese Army, are expected to provide leverage to Lebanon’s case during this week’s talks.
“The assessment of the World Bank – an objective and credible institution – comforts the international community,” the source said.
With respect to the political deadlock in Lebanon, the diplomatic source said that while the international community hoped for the immediate formation of a new government capable of making decisions, “we should be ready to work even if there is no government.”
The source said that contact and dialogue between Europe and Hezbollah was ongoing even after the EU decision to blacklist the military wing of the party.
As for demands by Hezbollah’s opponents to exclude the group from any new government, the source said the upcoming government should be “a reflection of Lebanese consensus.”
“You need minimum consensus and a set of common denominators to empower a government and enable it to make decisions,” the source added.