Lebanon News

Italy 'calling for dialogue,' says visiting MP

BEIRUT: The chairman of the Italian Parliament's Foreign Affairs Committee, Stephano Stefani said on Thursday that Italy is determined to contribute to Lebanese reconstruction and is "calling for dialogue" and an open door policy in Middle East diplomacy. The statement by the chairman concluded a two-day trip to Lebanon by a delegation from the Foreign Affairs Committee. The delegation's itinerary included meetings on Thursday with President Michel Sleiman, Speaker Nabih Berri, Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri, and outgoing PM Fouad Siniora.

The Italian visit comes during a critical period of cabinet formation in Lebanon that has drawn intense scrutiny from foreign governments including Syria, Saudi Arabia and France.

The amount of interest from external states has cast doubts on whether the distribution of the expected 30 government portfolios by Hariri will be an entirely Lebanese decision.

Members of the Italian delegation emphasized their support for the cabinet formation process and their commitment to state building in Lebanon. 

"Foreign countries should respect the will of the Lebanese people," said delegation member and Italian MP Leoluca Orlando. Orlando said cooperation among politicians will make the cabinet possible and he hoped for success by Hariri.

On Wednesday, the delegation also visited the Italian contingent of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) in South Lebanon.

Italy is the largest contributor of UNIFIL troops to Lebanon and has invested heavily in the reconstruction of Lebanon's government and economy that has been weakened by years of instability.

Stefani reaffirmed his country's commitment to reconstruction in Lebanon and said Italy will continue to help strengthen the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF). Stefani announced funding for Lebanese helicopters and said Italy "will continue doing its work and try and maintain peace."

In addition to their statements on Lebanese affairs the Italian delegation spoke on general diplomacy in the region. Both Italy and Lebanon are part of the Union for the Mediterranean, aimed at Middle East stability, and Italy has a long history of being involved in regional politics.

"I would like to remind you that just as Obama has helped in foreign policy politics, we also have our doors open, especially toward Iran," said Stefani.

Stefani and Orlando also made statements about the need for change in the Middle East peace process with Israel. "Lebanon specifically is suffering from these circumstances," said Stefani. "We greatly support the establishment of the two countries."

Italian forces have had a presence in Lebanon for decades and most recently have taken part in implementing United Nations Security Council Resolution 1701 to deploy soldiers to assist the LAF and help establish Lebanese sovereignty. The resolution brought the end to the 2006 war with Israel.





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