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World lavishes Lebanon with 'excellent' support in Rome.

Summary: Lebanese officials said the international backing shown Thursday at an conference to support Lebanese security agencies had been "excellent," after 40 countries and regional blocks gathered in Rome.

ROME: Lebanese officials said the international backing shown Thursday at an conference to support Lebanese security agencies had been "excellent," after 40 countries and regional blocks gathered in Rome.

Prime Minister Saad Hariri said it was "a successful afternoon," which would be followed up, as countries examine ways to assist Lebanon. "I am extremely satisfied," he said at the concluding news conference.

Two high-ranking Lebanese diplomats said side meetings as well as the main summit had been "excellent." One of the sources told The Daily Star more promises were made, other than those announced by France, the U.K. and the EU, but did not elaborate.

The summit gave the Army and Internal Security Forces a platform to unveil their 5-year plans and international backers will now study if, how and what to pledge depending on their interests and capabilities.

Despite the conference not specifically being organized for financial pledges, notable contributions were announced. French Foreign Minister Jean Yves-Le Drian said that it would provide a 400 million euro line of credit for the Army and ISF to purchase weapons and equipment.

Hariri told reporters that the credit provided was for the "LAF and ISF to use to buy certain equipment."

Gulf states were noticeably present, with Saudi Arabia being represented by Deputy Defense Minister Mohammad bin Abdullah al-Ayesh and the kingdom's head of mission in Lebanon Walid al-Bukhari. Hariri's chief-of-staff, Nader Hariri, told The Daily Star "political support" was given to Lebanon from the Gulf states.

High-ranking Gulf diplomats told The Daily Star at an UNRWA donor conference held in Rome earlier Thursday that Lebanon's stability was a "priority" for their countries. This was a clear sign that Lebanon's relationship with its Arab neighbors continues to edge closer to normal.

In his opening speech, Hariri told the participating Arab delegations "Lebanon will never forget everything you have done and we are happy you are here today to renew your commitment to Lebanon's stability."

As for UNSC resolutions 1701 and 2372, Hariri announced more Army troops would be sent to the south and Lebanon's intention of deploying a Model Regiment in the area. "Stability is not granted. We have to work for it every day. The time for mobilization and for coordination is now."

Additional separate bilateral talks between Lebanon and countries willing to pledge aid will be held in the near future, while a follow-up committee might be formed, Hariri said.

The U.K. also announced around $13 million in equipment and training for the Lebanese Army and security forces at the conference. "The funding uplift comes in addition to the over $110 million the U.K. has already committed up to 2019 as part of its long-term partnership with the Lebanese Armed Forces and Internal Security Forces," a statement from the U.K. Embassy in Beirut said.

"I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate the Lebanese Armed Forces and Internal Security Forces on the transformation they have undergone in recent years," U.K. Middle East Minister Alistair Burt said in the statement. "The courage and professionalism of these men and women, who risk their lives daily to protect their country, have earned them the trust and respect of the public. Along with the General Security and State Security, they have shown that they -- and only they -- are genuinely capable of defending Lebanon."

The British minister added, "We firmly believe that a secure and stable Lebanon is in all our interests. Your security is our security. Our continued support to Lebanon, along with the extra funding I have announced today, demonstrate the United Kingdom's commitment to a strong, safe and sovereign Lebanon."

The European Union pledged 50 million euros to "support Lebanon's security until 2020," High Representative and Commission Vice-President Federica Mogherini announced during her speech. Some 3.5 million euros of the pledge will help provide additional support to security at Lebanon's only functioning airport, to help both the training of civilian security guards there and upgrade security equipment and infrastructure.

"We all know how vital airport security has become in today's world. This is a contribution to the security of Lebanon, but also to our collective security," the EU diplomat noted.

The U.S. delegation, headed by Acting Assistant Secretary for Near Eastern Affairs David Satterfield, was noticeably quiet. As the largest donors to the Lebanese Army by a long way, no statements or comments were publicly issued.

Meanwhile, Lebanon's National Defense Strategy was one of the main focuses of diplomats' speeches. While the top U.N. official said Lebanon's stability was a founding pillar of the region's stability, Secretary-General Antonio Guterres also highlighted President Michel Aoun's recent announcement that discussions revolving around the defense strategy will be held soon. He acknowledged the collective efforts of the government saying, "Lebanon cannot afford to be drawn into conflicts by [neighboring countries]."

Italy's premier called for respecting Lebanon's sovereignty and said that it's "important to have this renewed message of the international community."

In his opening speech, Paolo Gentiloni said, "Because of its geographic position, it is important for Lebanon to be stable ... as well as for us Europeans."

But, he added, building Lebanese confidence "means [other Lebanese] forces cannot interfere in external conflicts," in an apparent criticism of Hezbollah's interference in multiple regional countries.

Asked about assurances that any aid pledged to the Army and security forces would not fall into the hands of Hezbollah, Hariri responded by saying, "this never happened and it never will."

The Italian prime minister also called upon European countries to look at Lebanon as an example and share the burden of helping the Syrian refugee crisis. "We have to be aware that our collective contribution to security in Lebanon should take into account the regional approach," he added.

Gentiloni was preceded by his compatriot, Italian Foreign Minister Angelino Alfano, who said that his country wishes to strengthen the security forces in Lebanon "working to make Lebanon immune from non-state actors and regional [turmoil]."

Italian Ambassador to Lebanon Massimo Marotti told The Daily Star that the conference was "a first step in the right direction. All participants showed that they share the vision that Lebanon's government presented in Rome."

Hariri spoke of the significance of the conference, as it "acknowledges the role Lebanon plays for stability across our regions," asking for efforts to preserve Lebanon's "moment of international consensus and support."

He also said he joined President Aoun in calling on the international community "to support the Lebanese Armed Forces, to enable them to assume their duty of preserving security and stability in accordance with the National Defense Strategy."

The Lebanese premier reiterated Lebanon's commitment to its policy of dissociation and maintaining the best relations with Arab countries and the rest of the international community. "I ask you all to give Lebanon the chance and the time to accomplish," Hariri said.

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Publication:The Daily Star (Beirut, Lebanon)
Geographic Code:7LEBA
Date:Mar 16, 2018
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