At 5:00 p.m. Beirut Time (10:00 a.m. US Time), Prime Minister Rafik Al-Hariri will start his discussions in the United States. Hariri is scheduled to meet US President Bill Clinton at 8:00 p.m. (Beirut Time).
Half an hour later, the Lebanese premier will hold talks with Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. Talks are expected to center on UN Security Council Resolution 425 and the recent Israeli offer to conditionally implement it. Prime Minister Hariri will reiterate Lebanon's call for the immediate and unconditional withdrawal of Israeli troops from South Lebanon and the Western Bekaa. On Thursday, the Lebanese premier will discuss the mandate of UN Interim Forces in South Lebanon with UN chief Kofi Annan in New York.
Hariri is accompanied by Acting Finance Minister of State Fouad Sanyoura and a number of political and economic advisors. During his five-day official visit to the US, Hariri is also scheduled to meet a number of high-ranking officials in the American administration in addition to some US businessmen and economists.
Upon his arrival last night in Washington, Hariri met Assistant Secretary of State for Mideast affairs Martin Indyk who welcomed the Lebanese premier on behalf of Clinton and Albright. The discussions were attended by members of the Lebanese accompanying delegation, the US ambassador to Lebanon Richard Jones and Lebanon?s ambassador to the US, Mohammed Shatah.
After the meeting, Indyk told reporters discussions centered on bilateral ties and developments in the peace process. He also briefed Hariri on recent US efforts aimed at kick-starting negotiations on the Israeli-Palestinian front. On the UNIFIL mandate in South Lebanon, Indyk said both the US and the UN Security council support its extension stressing the importance of the UNIFIL's role in South Lebanon. Responding to a question on the recent Israeli offer regarding Resolution 425, Indyk said there is nothing new on this level except that Israel voiced acceptance of the resolution and a will to implement it adding this is very important.
Lebanon's ambassador in Washington Mohammed Shatah briefed Lebanese reporters in Washington on the agenda of Prime Minister Hariri's talks there. Shatah said talks will focus on the Lebanese situation as part of the global situation in the region. Thus, discussions will have to include recent US efforts to re-start negotiations on the Israeli-Palestinian front. He added the premier will explain to the American administration the Lebanese stance regarding a just and comprehensive peace in the region.
According to presidential sources in Baabda, President Elias Al-Hrawi today described holding municipal and mayoral elections in the country after 35 years as one of the major accomplishments of Lebanon during his term in office. Another achievement, he added, is holding parliamentary elections every four years in the country. On the municipal and mayoral elections, Hrawi added he did not want to take sides with any party even in the city of his birthplace, Zahle. Hrawi added the people of Zahle have the right to chose their representatives according to their own standards and criteria.
Hrawi also praised the awareness prevalent among all the Lebanese during these polls in all governorates of the country.
The Governor of the South Faysal Al-Sayegh today called on the newly elected members of the city's municipal council to elect a president and a vice-president for their council and to distribute missions among the rest of the members. Sayegh called for the meeting to be held tomorrow in the Saray of Sidon. Sources in the city expect the head of Sidon's consensus list, Hilal Qoubrously, to win over the presidency. The council members seem to be at odds over who should become mayor.
The international cease-five monitoring panel is in session at the UNIFIL's headquarters in Naqoura. The group is looking into a Lebanese complaint filed over Israeli shelling of the town of Joun in Iqlim al-Kharroub last week. During the bombardment, 11 civilian homes and a civilian car were damaged. Sources close to the Lebanese delegation said these attacks violate the basic accords of the April 1996 understanding adding the bombardment of Joun was intentional.
The finance ministry today issued a statement announcing that the budget deficit calculated over the last five months showed a decrease by 34% in comparison to the same period last year. The statement added an increase of 21% was witnessed in the budget's revenues during the past five months. The finance ministry reiterated its commitment to maintain the planned budget deficit ratified by parliament which should not exceed 42%. The statement also said the ministry is abiding by all measures that can reduce expenditure on the one hand and increase sources of revenues on the other in a bid to decrease the budget deficit in a gradual manner during the coming years.
The Luxurious Hotel in the heart of Kaslik, Jounieh, Lebanon
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