BEIRUT: Italian Defense Minister Roberta Pinotti said Tuesday that she would discuss strategies for supporting the Lebanese Army with her French counterpart on an upcoming trip to Paris.
“I will be in Paris Monday and will meet with the defense minister. We will discuss a variety of issues relating to Europe but will of course talk about Lebanon,” Pinotti told The Daily Star.
Pinotti made a brief visit to Lebanon this week, meeting with top Lebanese officials including Lebanese Army commander Gen. Jean Kahwaji and Prime Minister Tammam Salam ahead of a technical meeting on Lebanon to be held in Rome next week. The meeting will lay the groundwork for the International Support Group for Lebanon’s June summit, also in Rome, during which specific measures to support the Lebanese Army are expected to be finalized.
“We hope that at the technical meeting we can make a concrete plan so that in June we can take concrete actions,” Pinotti said. She said that the Italian government would remain engaged in shoring up the Lebanese Army, particularly through troop training exercises.
Still, she hopes to establish a precise framework for further cooperation. “What’s important is ensuring an actual plan of action, saying that we can conduct this and this training by this specific time,” she said.
Additionally, Italy hopes that increasing the capacity of the Army will help stem regional terrorism.
“The fight against terrorism and the stabilization of the Mediterranean region is important for Italy,” she added.
The minister touted the Italian peacekeepers’ deployment within the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon as evidence of the two countries’ successful military cooperation. More than 1,000 Italians currently serve in the approximately 10,284-man peacekeeping force operating along the Blue Line, which separates Lebanon and Israel.
“We have had two Italian UNIFIL force commanders here, previously Gen. Claudio Graziano and now Maj. Gen. Paolo Serra, who have built very strong relationships between the Lebanese Army and the members of the Italian army stationed here,” Pinotti said.
“When I have spoken with the UNIFIL command here, they say they are very satisfied with the collaborations between the Italian troops and the Lebanese Army.”
Pinotti visited UNIFIL headquarters in Naqoura Tuesday in her first tour of an active Italian military operation since she assumed the post of defense minister last month.
Despite a number of recent incidents the border region, Pinotti said the area did not feel unduly tense.
“I found the situation to be calm,” she said. “We obviously have to keep an eye on what is going on in Syria, but to me the situation [in the south] didn’t seem particularly tense.”