NEW YORK: President Michel Sleiman discussed Thursday with U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel boosting U.S. military support to the Army, wrapping up his visit to New York, where he attended the U.N. General Assembly meetings and a convention to support Lebanon.
“Discussions tackled Lebanese-American ties and means to enhance cooperation between the Defense ministries of the two countries,” said a statement from the president’s office.
“Discussions also tackled increasing military support to the Lebanese Army [through the provision] of arms and equipment based on the [five-year capabilities development] plan provided by the Lebanese Army,” the statement added.
Sleiman and U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon Wednesday headed the inaugural meeting of the International Support Group for Lebanon in New York.
World leaders, including the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, attended the meeting to explore ways to help Lebanon maintain political stability and security and cope with the continuous flow of Syrian refugees in light of the war raging in neighboring Syria.
Ban urged the international community to boost Lebanon’s economy and Army during the talks on the sidelines of the General Assembly meetings.
Ban addressed the growing threats to security within Lebanon and along its borders as a result of the Syrian crisis and admitted that the Lebanese Army was “insufficiently” equipped in the face of a myriad of challenges.
“The Lebanese Armed Forces are stretched and insufficiently equipped to address the myriad tasks. I welcome the adoption by Lebanon of a plan to ensure that the Armed Forces are equipped to respond effectively,” he said.
Ban also acknowledged the critical role played by the Army in conjunction with UNIFIL to help maintain calm along the Blue Line, the border demarcation between Lebanon and Israel.
Participants at the meeting reiterated that the U.N.’s commitment to stability in Lebanon lies at the heart of U.N. Security Council Resolution 1701 and other relevant resolutions.
Now collectively operated by a steering committee directly affiliated with the office of the U.N. secretary-general, the International Support Group for Lebanon is the brainchild of France.
Participants expressed their appreciation of Sleiman’s leadership in seeking to uphold Lebanon’s sovereignty, unity and stability and the continuity of state institutions, to promote dialogue and to safeguard Lebanon from the impact of the Syrian crisis. They also stressed the importance of continued commitment by all Lebanese parties to the Baabda Declaration of June 12, 2012, and Lebanon’s policy of disassociation with regional conflicts.
Participants called for forming an empowered government in Lebanon if the many security, humanitarian and development challenges facing Lebanon were to be met effectively.
The primary mission of the International Support Group for Lebanon is to shield the country against the war in Syria through supporting Lebanese state institutions.
The group’s threefold objectives include supporting Lebanon’s battered economy, assisting the poorly equipped military and helping Lebanon cope with the growing Syrian refugee population.
In addition to French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, Wednesday’s meeting was attended by U.K. Foreign Secretary William Hague, Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, Arab League head Nabil Elaraby, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres.
Sleiman stressed that his country’s neutrality toward the conflict in Syria, the implementation of U.N. Security Council Resolution 1701 and border control were key to stability in Lebanon.
A statement from the president’s office said Sleiman “stressed the need for continued support from internal parties and influential regional countries for the Baabda Declaration and the need to abide by it in word and deed.”
The president also highlighted the need for continued international support toward promoting diplomatic preventive measures and a peaceful resolution of conflicts as in the case of Syria.
Sleiman also called for a just and comprehensive solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict based on United Nations resolutions, the Madrid Conference and the Arab Peace Initiative.
The biggest challenge facing Lebanon comes from the huge refugee influx of Syrian refugees; at least 750,000 are officially registered with the U.N., which predicts that the number will rise to 1.6 million, or 37 percent of the country’s precrisis population, by the end of 2014 – the biggest wave of refugees flowing into the smallest of Syria’s neighbors.
Lebanese officials have complained that while international donors have helped fund the U.N. refugee agency, UNHCR, and other aid agencies in Lebanon, the country has received little direct international support to absorb the economic toll of the crisis.
U.S. President Barack Obama announced that his country would contribute more than $74 million to support humanitarian assistance efforts in Lebanon.
For his part, Kerry voiced concern over the rising number of security incidents in Lebanon, slamming Hezbollah’s intervention in Syria.
“We are deeply concerned by the rising number of terrorist attacks and security incidents inside Lebanon and with Hezbollah’s brazen intervention into the Syrian conflict, which contradicts its commitment to the Baabda Declaration,” Kerry said.
“I want to commend the Lebanese Armed Forces for their extraordinary work to try to help keep the peace on behalf of all of Lebanon’s people,” he added.