Jacques Santer, the president of the European Commission, is expected in Lebanon shortly for a two-day official visit. Santer, on the last leg of a regional tour that took him to Jordan, Cairo, Israel, the Palestinian territories and Syria, will hold talks with Lebanon's three top leaders, President Elias Al-Hrawi, House Speaker Nabih Berri, and Prime Minister Rafik Al-Hariri on regional developments and bilateral ties with the European Union. He is also due to hold similar discussions with Foreign Minister Faris Boueiz. Santer's visit to Lebanon is also aimed at revitalizing negotiations over the Euro-Mediterranean partnership agreement. He is expected to assess the current state of the EU-Med policy which seeks to boost economic, security, social, and cultural cooperation between the 15 members of the EU and the 12 countries in the Mediterranean basin. The Head of the European Commission had held talks in Damascus with top Syrian officials. He told reporters in the Syrian capital he was worried that the deadlocked Middle East peace process will harm efforts by the EU to build partnership countries around the Mediterranean. Santer's tour in the region is intended to promote a greater European role in the Middle East.
Santer's official visit will coincides with that of the Swedish Foreign Affairs Minister Lena Hjelm Wallen who will arrive in Lebanon tomorrow for a two-day official visit. She is expected to meet the country's three top leaders as well as her Lebanese counterpart Faris Boueiz. Her discussions with the Lebanese officials will center on possible ways to revive and strengthen the Middle East peace process. She is expected to further confirm Sweden's support for UN resolution 425 which calls on Israel to unconditionally withdraw from South Lebanon and the Western Bekaa.
Bilateral relations and economic issues will also top the agenda of talks. She is due later to leave Lebanon for Amman.
During a one-day visit to Azerbijan, Prime Minister Rafik Al-Hariri and Azeri President Haydar Aliyev signed four deals on economic cooperation between their two countries. He was received at the airport by Azeri Foreign Minister Hassan Hassanov and a number of officials. Hariri was accompanied by a Lebanese delegation comprising Acting Finance Minister Fouad Sanyoura, Transportation Minister Omar Miskawi, Minister of Trade Yassin Jaber and a number of economic and financial advisors. The four deal included agreements on investment protection, customs, trade and air travel. The Lebanese premier and the Azeri president earlier held talks on the current Iraqi-UN standoff over weapons inspections in the Iraqi capital. Hariri's visit was mainly aimed at discussing the possibility of Lebanon buying Azeri oil. The two countries established official relations shortly after Azerbijan achieved independence in 1991.
House Speaker Nabih Berri called for a special session to be held in parliament to discuss the current crisis in Iraq. The session will be headed be Berri and attended by parliamentary committees and ministers of foreign affairs, defense, interior affairs and information. The session will be held next Tuesday. His visitors reportedly quoted him as saying any US military action against Iraq will affect the whole region adding it was aimed at exerting US control over the countries of the region and pressuring Syria and Iran. Berri also expressed concern over the possibility of the formation of a Kurdish state in northern Iraq adding this was aimed at dividing the country.
Minister of the Displaced Walid Jumblatt yesterday held talks with the head of the Phalangist party in Lebanon, George Saadeh. After the meeting, Jumblatt stressed the importance of open dialogue between the different Lebanese parties in light of the current economic, social and political situation. A consensus was reached during the meeting to set up two committees to facilitate such exchanges between the different political groups. For his part, Saadeh agreed that the parties shared common ground, notably on the issues of freedom of speech and return of the war displaced to their villages and homes. Following a press conference at the party headquarters in Beirut, Jumblatt headed to a meeting with the national Bloc Party for another round of talks. After a meeting with the party's secretary general, Ibrahim Istfan, Jumblatt announced a series of other meetings will follow to study coordination between the parties over the issues of the up-coming municipal and mayoral elections and the problems of the war displaced.
The Luxurious Hotel in the heart of Kaslik, Jounieh, Lebanon
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