President Michel Sleiman is set to head the Lebanese delegation at the upcoming Arab League summit in Kuwait on March 25 and 26, preparations for which are already underway. Arab League Secretary-General Nabil Elaraby, who recently arrived in Kuwait, is putting the final touches on an agenda that will focus on several issues, primarily the Palestinian cause and the Syria crisis.
Other agenda items will include the challenges faced by several countries hosting Syrian refugees, as well as matters relating to the development of the Arab League and the statement to be issued at the summit’s conclusion.
According to information made available to The Daily Star, Arab royalty and heads of states will discuss the Lebanese file during the summit, especially the Syrian refugee issue. Sleiman is expected to ask for more aid in order to face the refugee crisis, following the formation of the new government and the decisions reached at the Kuwait donor conference last month, which focused on assisting Syria’s neighboring countries.
Sources also revealed that the president would hold meetings with some of his Arab counterparts to discuss the current situation in Lebanon as well as the effect the Syrian conflict was having on the country. He will also highlight the urgent need to confront the challenges posed by the refugee influx in Lebanon. Sleiman is also expected to meet with officials from Saudi Arabia to thank them for the kingdom’s recent $3 billion donation to the Lebanese Army.
Sources suggest that other Gulf countries will follow Saudi Arabia’s example and provide aid to Lebanon to strengthen its ability to fight terrorism.
Concerning the generous Saudi donation, signs show that it is close to being implemented, as Army commander Gen. Jean Kahwagi has made frequent visits to European capitals, in particular Paris and Rome, just ahead of the International Support Group for Lebanon summit that is expected to take place next month to support the country politically, militarily and economically.
Negotiations that took place between the Army and a military delegation from France in Beirut to discuss the Army’s needs are yet another indication that the Saudi donation is being put to its intended use.
High-ranking sources suggest that the importance of the Saudi grant is not limited to military concerns, but is also the first instance of state-to-state aid that was not procured with mediation. There will be a public announcement once the donation is provided in full to the concerned Lebanese authorities.
Sleiman has discussed with his French counterpart President Francois Hollande the need to supply the Lebanese Army with weapons, including missiles and aircraft to fight terrorism in the country, as the available light weaponry in the Army’s arsenal is not sufficient.
Hollande promised to act and was wired the Army file quickly, knowing that Sleiman had, as military leader, prepared a long-term military plan after the Nahr al-Bared clashes.
Sleiman’s plan encompasses the next 20 years and costs approximately $5 billion to implement, with the government already providing $1.6 billion. The Saudi donation will cover three-quarters of the cost and international conferences are being pursued to cover the rest.
The sources added that the conference in Italy at the end of March would be two-pronged; the first will be at the military level for Army leaders, the second for defense and foreign ministers.