Mil­i­tary deal with Rus­sia im­mi­nent

Cab­i­net meets Tues­day to dis­cuss co­op­er­a­tion agree­ment and 44 other agenda items

The Daily Star (Lebanon) - - LEBANON - By Hus­sein Dakroub

BEIRUT: The Cab­i­net is set to meet this week to clear the way for the sign­ing of a mil­i­tary co­op­er­a­tion agree­ment be­tween Le­banon and Rus­sia, of­fi­cial sources said Sun­day, in the gov­ern­ment’s lat­est ef­fort to re­in­force the Le­banese Army’s ca­pa­bil­i­ties.

To be chaired by Pres­i­dent Michel Aoun at 11:30 a.m. Tues­day at Baabda Palace, the Cab­i­net will dis­cuss 45 agenda items, in­clud­ing those left from last week’s ses­sion. The agenda in­cludes loans to im­ple­ment a num­ber of projects, an of­fi­cial source said.

“The most im­por­tant topic on the agenda is the sign­ing of a mil­i­tary co­op­er­a­tion agree­ment be­tween Le­banon and Rus­sia,” the source told The Daily Star.

The Cab­i­net will au­tho­rize De­fense Min­is­ter Yaa­coub Sar­raf to visit Moscow in April to sign the agree­ment with his Rus­sian coun­ter­part, the source said.

There were no im­me­di­ate de­tails on what such an agree­ment would en­tail and what kind of weapons Rus­sia might pro­vide to Le­banon.

The Daily Star’s ef­forts to reach Sar­raf for com­ment were un­suc­cess­ful. Other of­fi­cials were un­reach­able.

Prime Min­is­ter Saad Hariri and In­te­rior Min­is­ter Nouhad Mach­nouk have vis­ited Moscow sep­a­rately and held talks with se­nior Rus­sian of­fi­cials fo­cus­ing on weapons sup­plies to the Le­banese Army and In­ter­nal Se­cu­rity Forces.

Dur­ing an of­fi­cial visit to Moscow last Septem­ber, Hariri urged Rus­sia to sup­port the Le­banese Army and called for greater eco­nomic and mil­i­tary co­op­er­a­tion be­tween the two coun­tries.

“We want greater eco­nomic and po­lit­i­cal Le­banese-Rus­sian co­op­er­a­tion. This is my first visit to Rus­sia as a prime min­is­ter and I am de­ter­mined to de­velop the eco­nomic and mil­i­tary re­la­tions,” Hariri told Rus­sian For­eign Min­is­ter Sergey Lavrov dur­ing a live me­dia con­fer­ence be­fore the pair sat down for talks.

Not­ing that Le­banon was ac­tively en­gaged in the fight against ter­ror­ism, Hariri said that the Le­banese Army had been vic­to­ri­ous in its of­fen­sive last year in ex­pelling Daesh (ISIS) mil­i­tants from Le­banon’s north­east­ern bor­der and hence, there was a need to help strengthen its ca­pa­bil­i­ties and that of its se­cu­rity agen­cies.

In ad­di­tion to Lavrov, Hariri had also met with Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin and Prime Min­is­ter Dim­itri Medvedev, dis­cussing with them boost­ing bi­lat­eral re­la­tions.

Rus­sian me­dia re­ports said that Moscow and Beirut be­gan in early Fe­bru­ary dis­cussing an agree­ment to al­low port vis­its by Rus­sian naval forces and mil­i­tary air­craft to Le­banese fa­cil­i­ties.

There was no Le­banese con­fir­ma­tion of these re­ports.

On Feb. 3, the Rus­sian gov­ern­ment di­rected the De­fense Min­istry to con­clude an agree­ment with Le­banon on in­creased mil­i­tary co­op­er­a­tion, the Jamestown Foun­da­tion’s Eura­sia Daily Mon­i­tor re­ported.

Signed by the Rus­sian premier, the draft agree­ment pro­poses the use of Le­banese fa­cil­i­ties by the Rus­sian mil­i­tary, a broader ex­change of mil­i­tary in­for­ma­tion, along with deep­en­ing bi­lat­eral co­op­er­a­tion on in­ter­na­tional se­cu­rity is­sues and deep­en­ing col­lab­o­ra­tion against ter­ror­ism and piracy, the mon­i­tor said, quot­ing the Rus­sian news agency In­ter­fax.

Ac­cord­ing to the de­cree, ob­jec­tives of the planned co­op­er­a­tion also in­clude the joint train­ing of troops. Ad­di­tional ar­eas of col­lab­o­ra­tion con­tain pro­pos­als to en­hance in­for­ma­tion and en­gi­neer­ing sup­port, mil­i­tary ed­u­ca­tion and medicine, mil­i­tary to­pog­ra­phy and hy­drog­ra­phy, as well as co­op­er­a­tion in search and res­cue at sea.

It is en­vis­aged that the agree­ment will be signed for a pe­riod of five years with an au­to­matic ex­ten­sion for sub­se­quent five-year pe­ri­ods, un­less one of the par­ties ex­presses the in­ten­tion to ter­mi­nate the agree­ment.

Mean­while, Le­banon is step­ping up prepa­ra­tions for the CEDRE con­fer­ence sched­uled to be held in Paris next month aimed at prop­ping up Le­banon’s strug­gling econ­omy and ag­ing in­fra­struc­ture.

“I am now in Paris and will meet to­mor­row [Mon­day] with French of­fi­cials as part of on­go­ing prepa­ra­tions for the CEDRE con­fer­ence,” Econ­omy Min­is­ter Raed Khoury told The Daily Star by phone from Paris Sun­day.

Asked whether the CEDRE con­fer­ence, also known as Paris IV con­fer­ence, would be as suc­cess­ful as the Rome II con­fer­ence in sup­port of the Le­banese Army and se­cu­rity forces, Khoury said: “Things are on the right track.”

Boosted by the suc­cess of the Rome II con­fer­ence held in the Ital­ian cap­i­tal on March 15 dur­ing which France promised to pro­vide a 400 mil­lion euro ($493 mil­lion) line of credit to pur­chase weapons and equip­ment for the Le­banese Army and In­ter­nal Se­cu­rity Forces, the Cab­i­net last week en­dorsed Le­banon’s blue­print, the Cap­i­tal In­vest­ment Pro­gram, to be pre­sented to the CEDRE con­fer­ence set to be held in Paris on April 6.

The CEDRE con­fer­ence is de­signed to drum up in­ter­na­tional sup­port to bol­ster Le­banon’s econ­omy and in­fra­struc­ture through in­vest­ment projects and soft loans. It is one of three in­ter­na­tional con­fer­ences aimed at sup­port­ing Le­banon.

A third in­ter­na­tional con­fer­ence, to be held in Brus­sels later in the spring, will fo­cus on sup­port for Syr­ian refugees in the re­gion, in­clud­ing Le­banon, which hosts 1.5 mil­lion Syr­ian refugees, ac­cord­ing to gov­ern­ment es­ti­mates.

Hariri said last week that Le­banon was seek­ing $6 bil­lion for a five-year in­fra­struc­ture pro­gram at the CEDRE con­fer­ence. The gov­ern­ment’s 10-year pro­gram is re­ported to re­quire $10 bil­lion, of which Hariri said up to $4 bil­lion would come through pub­lic-pri­vate part­ner­ships.

The gov­ern­ment is also fac­ing in­ter­na­tional pres­sure to rat­ify the 2018 draft state bud­get along with eco­nomic re­forms ahead of the donor con­fer­ences.

Af­ter it was en­dorsed by the Cab­i­net ear­lier this month, the par­lia­men­tary Fi­nance and Bud­get Com­mit­tee has been meet­ing daily to wrap up the draft bud­get be­fore send­ing it Par­lia­ment’s gen­eral as­sem­bly for fi­nal rat­i­fi­ca­tion.

“Speaker Nabih Berri will call for Par­lia­ment ses­sions to de­bate and rat­ify the draft bud­get once the com­mit­tee has fi­nal­ized its dis­cus­sion and ap­proval of al­lo­ca­tions for all min­istries,” Youth and Sports Min­is­ter Mo­ham­mad Fneish said.

The co­op­er­a­tion re­port­edly in­cludes the joint train­ing of troops

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