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Lebanon to take center stage at high-profile talks

U.S. President Barack Obama addresses a joint news conference with French President Francois Hollande in the East Room of the White House in Washington, February 11, 2014. (REUTERS/Gary Cameron)

There are two prominent meetings taking place next month where Lebanon will be high on the agenda, sources say – the Saudi-American gathering and the Vatican-American meeting.

First up is Obama’s visit to Saudi Arabia, which many agree will be very important in terms of mending the relationship between the two countries after the U.S. angered the Gulf state by abstaining from a military strike against Syria and holding an interim agreement with Iran over its nuclear program.

The center of the talks will be Lebanon, according to the sources, as its situation is both mirrored by and linked to the regional crisis, a fact evidenced by the issues surrounding the attempts to form a government. The sources said that the Saudi-American summit, which is taking place during a sensitive time, should have a positive effect on regional tensions, including in Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon.

The second meeting, which will see Obama visiting the Vatican and meeting with Pope Francis, should focus on the position of Christians in the Middle East in general, and in Lebanon in particular. At the annual breakfast prayer last week in the United States, Obama made his stance very clear by focusing on sects and their rights in the Middle East. His administration has also stressed the need to defend the rights of Middle Eastern people to practice their beliefs and the importance of respecting religions and refraining from committing crimes against them in the name of God.

The sources said the Vatican-American talks would try to clarify some of the most sensitive religious issues and would adopt stances that would benefit the Christians in the Middle East and Lebanon in particular.

The Vatican has already formed a crisis committee on the subject and has commissioned a group of bishops to prepare a report detailing the reality facing Christians in the region and their reasons for emigrating, as well as identifying possible solutions. A similar report was previously prepared by the Vatican concerning Coptic Christians in Egypt, and it is currently being studied as a prelude to making recommendations.

At the request of the crisis committee, Bkirki has also prepared a report on the situation of the Middle East’s Christians which was discussed between the pope and Maronite Patriarch Beshara Rai during Rai’s last visit to the Vatican.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on February 12, 2014, on page 3.

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Summary

There are two prominent meetings taking place next month where Lebanon will be high on the agenda, sources say – the Saudi-American gathering and the Vatican-American meeting.

The second meeting, which will see Obama visiting the Vatican and meeting with Pope Francis, should focus on the position of Christians in the Middle East in general, and in Lebanon in particular.

The sources said the Vatican-American talks would try to clarify some of the most sensitive religious issues and would adopt stances that would benefit the Christians in the Middle East and Lebanon in particular.


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