BEIRUT: Preparations are underway for the second high-level meeting of the International Support Group for Lebanon in France, which is scheduled for March 5 and 6.
The Daily Star has learned that President Michel Sleiman tasked his adviser former diplomat Naji Abi Assi and his economic adviser Shadi Karam to go to Paris and prepare conference files to present Lebanon’s perspective and to engage in follow-up discussions concerning the decisions reached during the September conference in New York.
The representatives will draw particular attention to the Saudi donation of $3 billion to bolster the Lebanese Army.
The International Support Group for Lebanon was inaugurated in New York in September, on the sidelines of the 68th United Nations General Assembly session.
Its goal is to mobilize support for Lebanon and the country’s state institutions as well as to help the country address the influx of Syrian refugees.
The Paris conference will be the first opportunity for Lebanon’s new Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil to make an international appearance. He will represent his ministry for the first time at a regional meeting during the Arab League summit in Kuwait slated for mid-March.
A member of the Lebanese delegation to Paris, who requested anonymity, said that the conference would likely lead to the activation of the credit fund that was discussed during the New York conference, even though a method to transfer the aid has yet to be implemented.
He added that Sleiman was scheduled to meet several conference participants, notably French President Francois Hollande.
A diplomatic report handed to Lebanese politicians and made available to The Daily Star said that U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry would meet his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov on the sidelines of the Paris conference.
The two are due to discuss, among other things, the spate of terrorist attacks in Lebanon.
According to the diplomatic sources, Kerry will stress in his meeting with Lavrov the importance of distancing Lebanon from the repercussions of the Syrian crisis and boosting security and stability in the country, as its safety has important regional consequences.
The source noted that the main aim of the conference was to keep Lebanon out of regional conflicts, in addition to emphasizing the importance of holding a presidential election on schedule and other technical matters that could help the country manage the burden of Syrian refugees as well as assist the Lebanese Army.
With respect to the latter topic, France announced its readiness to meet the needs of the Army without conditions to equip it with the necessary arms and help it curb the smuggling of fighters and weapons across Lebanon’s borders.
The March 5 conference in Paris is set to be followed later in the month by a conference in Rome that aims to garner support for the Lebanese Army. The date for a third conference about Lebanon, set to take place in Germany, has not yet been announced.
Sleiman’s adviser for economic affairs Karam said Friday that next week’s conference of the International Support Group for Lebanon in Paris would be a major event designed to translate international will to bolster stability in Lebanon into action.
“The Paris conference will be followed by the Rome conference dedicated to the other pillar in the equation: supporting the Army and security forces,” Karam said in an interview with Lebanon’s Central News Agency.
Asked whether the results of the ISG conferences in Paris and Rome would be affected if the Baabda Declaration was not mentioned in the new Cabinet’s policy statement, Karam said: “The Baabda Declaration is made up of a set of basic principles that have been agreed upon by all of the political parties in Lebanon.
“Therefore, the declaration is distinguished by its [National] Pact character because it reflects the collective will of the Lebanese. This is how the international community understands it.
“Thus, it [the declaration] is considered a point of reference in all texts and statements issued by the Security Council and the U.N. secretary-general.”