BEIRUT: British Foreign Secretary William Hague said Thursday his country was increasing training assistance to the Lebanese Army and pointed to the importance of Lebanon holding its parliamentary elections on time.
He also welcomed Lebanon’s commitment to cooperating with Bulgarian authorities over the 2012 Burgas bus bombing and said a “credible political process leading to transition” was needed in Syria.
“The U.K. recognizes in particular the critical role played by the Lebanese Armed Forces in maintaining stability. That is why we are increasing our training assistance package,” Hague told reporters after talks with President Michel Sleiman, according to U.K. Embassy statement.
He added that Britain would help the military train over 2,000 troops in the coming year, adding that there were joint activities planned with the Army including equipment and training support.
Hague, who met Prime Minister Najib Mikati upon his arrival in Beirut Wednesday, is expected to meet with Army officials later Thursday.
The British official said he discussed with Sleiman bilateral ties and the situation in the region.
He said his government was committed to doing all it could to support peace and stability in Lebanon.
“On behalf of the prime minister, I handed the president a letter setting out an enhanced offer of support for Lebanon’s stability,” Hague said without elaborating further on the content of the letter.
On Lebanon’s elections, Hague said he and Sleiman discussed the need for political parties to agree on a process that respects the constitutional deadline of the 2013 polls.
“In these difficult times, it is important that political forces in Lebanon come together in a spirit of dialogue and consensus to agree a process that respects the constitutional timetable for this year's elections,” Hague said.
Disagreement over an electoral law to govern the upcoming Lebanese elections has raised concerns they may not be held on time.
Referring to his meeting with Mikati Wednesday, Hague said he had discussed the importance of both stability in Lebanon and inclusive dialogue in the run-up to the elections
“We agreed, as I have with the president today, on the urgent need to make progress in the Middle East Peace Process, and I welcomed Lebanon's commitment to cooperate with the Bulgarian investigation into the bombing of a bus in Burgas,” the foreign secretary said.
Earlier this month, Bulgaria said Hezbollah had financed the two men it says are behind the July bus bombing in the Black Sea resort city of Burgas that killed five Israeli tourists and their Bulgarian driver.
Responding to reporters’ questions at Baabda Palace, Hague, when asked about the possibility of the EU blacklisting Hezbollah, said if this occurred, then the decision should not impact on Lebanon’s stability or ties between Lebanon and EU states.
Hague also spoke about the situation of thousands of refugees in Lebanon, saying the government along with the displaced “should not have to stand alone.”
“Later on today I will be announcing U.K. aid allocated to helping Syrian refugees in Lebanon,” he said.
Describing the events in Syria as “of enormous concern,” Hague said killings in the troubled country must be brought to an end through a “credible political process leading to transition.” – With reporting by Nafez Kawas