European Union envoy to the Middle East Miguel Angel Moratinos today held talks with Lebanese officials mainly on the role the EU can play in the Mideast peace process. Moratinos first held talks with prime minister Rafik Al-Hariri. After the meeting, Moratinos told reporters at the government palace he had fruitful discussions with the Lebanese premier, adding they agreed on continuing talks this evening at the palace. Talks focused on the role the EU can play in the Mideast peace process, the Lebanese and Syrian tracks and the general situation in the region. Moratinos said he shared with Hariri similar views on the importance of the European role and the necessity of enforcing it adding the EU will play a greater role in the peace process in the future. Moratinos also said his visit follows an EU delegation tour in the region headed by Luxembourg's foreign minister Jacques Poos. The EU envoy also discussed with the prime minister preparations underway for the European summit to be held on December 13-14 in Luxembourg. Moratinos hoped this summit will help change the traditional view held of the European role concerning the peace process. Moratinos also said this role in complementary to the American role but now the EU is considering a stronger role and a political existence in the region adding Europe's influence should political, social and not only perceived as economic.
The EU envoy later held talks with House Speaker Nabih Berri in parliament. After their meeting, Moratinos said he is carrying with him some ideas dealing with security but he refused to disclose any details. Moratinos later held talks with Foreign Minister Faris Boueiz in the presence of the ministry's director general Zafer Al-Hassan. At Boustrous Palace, he discussed the issue of Palestinian refugees. The EU envoy told reporters the issue needed to be approached in two ways. On the humanitarian level, he said, the Palestinians should be given hope on the possibility of getting out of their deteriorating situation and improving their conditions. But Moratinos added a political solution to their problem will be undertaken during final status talks between the Palestinians, the Israelis, the countries hosting those refugees around the world. Moratinos will conclude his 32-hour visit which began yesterday by holding a press conference tomorrow morning immediately before his departure.
At Boustrous Palace today, the US ambassador to Lebanon Richard Jones today held talks with foreign minister Faris Boueiz in the presence of the ministry's secretary general Zafer Al-Hassan. After the meeting, Jones said he updated the foreign minister on the outcome of his recent visit to the US. Discussions also centered on regional developments. Responding to a question concerning recent visit by European envoys to the Mideast and that of EU envoy Miguel Angel Moratinos today, Jones described the efforts conducted by the Europeans as constructive and certainly useful adding the US looks forward to see the results of their efforts in the region.
Responding to a question on his countries stance regarding the Israeli security minister Avigdor Kahalani's constant threat to attack viable resources in the capital in case the resistance continues operating in the South, Jones said US continues to support the implementation of the April 96 understanding. On the issue of the landmines. Jones said his country will be sending more experts to Lebanon to assist the army in mine clearing operations. Jones described the program as a training program which involves technical assistance and probably equipment supply. On the same issue, Jones added he participated in a meeting in Washington during which the recent visit of a US delegation on landmine experts to Lebanon was discussed. The US ambassador an official approval was granted by US officials during this meeting on initiating the program at the beginning of the new year. This enables experts to start real work, Jones elaborated, starting next summer. Jones concluded by saying recent statistics conducted by the Lebanese army indicated that there were about 600 mine fields in Lebanon which he said need to be cleared.
The budget and finance committee in parliament today held discussions concerning the accord forwarded by the country's leaders on an economic strategy to overcome the budget deficit. The accord also aims at finding possible ways to finance development projects in different areas in the country. Deputies at the meeting discussed the possibility of creating some draft laws for the proposed clauses. Some also proposed to reform the overall 1998 draft state budget. Acting Finance minister Fouad Sanyoura who was present in today's session was quoted by sources at the meeting as saying the proposed economic accord enables the government to save six hundred billion Lebanese Liras on an annual basis.
At the Coral Beach Hotel in Beirut, expert participants from 45 member countries in the Economic and Social Council for West Asia discussed issues related to research and development in their countries. Head of the ESCWA headquarters in Beirut Hazem Al-Biblawi today opened the three-day conference. The meeting is organized by ESCWA's Beirut headquarters in cooperation with the National Council for Scientific Research in Lebanon. It is expected to deliver some recommendations on Wednesday.
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