LAF commander inks deal for more US weaponry
Pact signed during visit by pentagon official
A senior US defense official signed an agreement in Beirut on Friday to give the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) additional military equipment. US Undersecretary of Defense Eric Edelman met with Prime Minister Fouad Siniora and the commander of the LAF, General Jean Kahwaji. A statement issued by the US Embassy said that Edelman and Kahwaji signed an agreement for the LAF to receive additional automatic grenade launchers.
"Building on previous discussions between Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, President Michel Sleiman, and Defense Minister Elias Murr, Edelman and the Lebanese officials followed up on the recent joint military commission discussions designed to strengthen the US-Lebanon bilateral defense relationship," the statement said.
"Since 2006, the United States has committed more than $410 million in security assistance to the LAF, and the United States will continue to provide equipment and training to the LAF," it added.
In his meetings, Edelman stressed the United States” continuous commitment to enhancing the Lebanese army”s capabilities, adding that the US will continue to support the government of Lebanon and the LAF as they continue to safeguard the peace, unity and sovereignty of Lebanon.
In a related development, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told Al-Arabiyya satellite television news on Friday that the US would not allow Syrian military intervention in Lebanon.
"We have already relayed this message to the Syrians," she said, adding that Damascus should not use the recent explosions in North Lebanon as a pretext to justify any kind of military interference.
Rice was referring to two explosions that hit the northern coastal city of Tripoli in August and September, after which Syria deployed almost 10,000 soldiers along Lebanon”s border.
Damascus said the deployment was aimed at countering border smuggling, but many anti-Syrian politicians in Lebanon feared the move would pave the way for Syrian military intervention in Lebanon.
Also Friday, French diplomatic sources were quoted by Lebanon”s Central News Agency (CNA) as saying that French Prime Minister Francois Fillon was preparing to visit Beirut on November 20 with the aim of enhancing bilateral ties between Beirut and Paris.
The sources said that Fillon would head a delegation of ministers and French businessmen, adding that the visit would include signing a number of commercial, economic and cultural agreements.
The sources were also quoted as saying that French President Nicholas Sarkozy was willing to invite Sleiman to visit France next spring.
Both Sarkozy and Sleiman are currently attending the 12th Francophone summit in Quebec, Canada.
Sleiman was due to address the summit as The Daily Star went to press early Saturday.
In a separate development, Iran welcomed the establishment of diplomatic ties between Lebanon and Syria, the ISNA news agency reported.
"The move contributes to the strengthening of the mutual and historical relations between the two nations that are [Iran”s] friends and brothers," Foreign Ministry spokesman Hossein Ghashghavi was quoted as saying.
On Wednesday, Syria and Lebanon announced the establishment of diplomatic ties for the first time since they became independent in the 1940s. The two neighbors are set to open embassies in each other”s capitals before the end of the year.
In a separate development, Progressive Socialist Party (PSP) leader Walid Jumblatt was quoted as saying that he would rather not meet Hizbullah”s leadership until a reconciliation meeting between Future Movement chief Saad Hariri and Hizbullah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah takes place.
Jumblatt”s PSP had already kicked off reconciliation meetings with Hizbullah under the auspices of Lebanese Democratic Party leader Talal Arslan. But security arrangements have reportedly delayed the Hariri-Nasrallah rapprochement.
Meanwhile, Arab League chief Amr Moussa expressed his satisfaction with the recent reconciliation efforts taking place in Lebanon.
Moussa told the pan-Arab daily Ash-Sharq Al-Awsat on Friday that the "positive atmosphere" in Lebanon should be safeguarded against many regional developments that could negatively affect the country”s stability.
For his part, Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea told Kuwaiti daily Al-Rai and Egyptian weekly Rose al-Youssef in remarks published on Friday that the establishment of diplomatic ties between Beirut and Damascus should be followed by the resolution of a number of contentious issues between the two countries.
Such issues, Geagea said, include the fate of Lebanese prisoners in Syrian jails and border demarcation between the neighboring states.
Separately, the Lebanese Forces issued a statement denying a report published in As-Safir newspaper on Friday, quoting Geagea as saying that it would have taken him no more than several hours to defeat Free Patriotic Movement MP Michel Aoun”s partisans had he decided to do so during last May”s clashes between Hizbullah-led fighters and pro-government gunmen.
The LF statement said that the information published in As-Safir was part of a media campaign against Geagea and his party.