EU chief vows help, investments in Lebanon
European Commission President Romano Prodi vowed here Friday, February 9, to encourage EU banks and private firms to invest in Lebanon and promised to help demining operations in once Israeli-occupied south Lebanon. Prodi, in a joint press conference with Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri, said he "hoped that the European Union will sign an association agreement with Lebanon in June, or at least before vacations in August."
Hariri said Lebanese Economy Minister Bassel Fleihan will travel next week to Brussels to continue negotiations that would help Lebanon and the EU to seal the agreement "as soon as possible, probably bofore the summer." "This agreement will ... make Lebanon a center for trade, finance and tourism," he said. Hariri said the association agreement will encourage "European businessmen to have a branch or a base in Lebanon."
Prodi promised "all possible efforts, and not only from the (European Union). The European bank and the private sector will also be mobilized ... and we will exert all efforts to have foreign investments." He said the negotiations with Lebanon will help "clarify few details and overcome problems."
In November, shortly after his election, Hariri said he wanted to relaunch association talks with a view to signing a deal this year. Negotiations were first launched in 1995, but ran aground because of disagreement over high Lebanese tariffs. At the end of November, however, the Hariri government decided on a sharp cut in tariffs, eliminating them altogether on some goods.
Hariri said he hoped in return to obtain about 500 million euros ($460 million) in financial compensation from the EU. Prodi also said the European Union was ready to help in demining operations, mainly carried out by United Nations peacekeepers, in the border zone occupied by Israel for 22 years until last May.
The EU official, who held talks with Lebanese President Emile Lahoud upon his arrival here Thursday, will travel later Friday to Damascus on the last leg of a regional tour that also took him to Jordan. —(AFP)
© Agence France Presse 2000
© 2001 Mena Report (www.menareport.com)