Lebanese PM to Hold Talks with Bush on April 24
Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri will visit Washington on April 24th for talks with US President George W. Bush on the Middle East peace and revitalizing Lebanon’s economy.
"The president looks forward to discussing with the Prime Minister bilateral and regional issues of mutual interest, including efforts to revitalize Lebanon's economy, and to consulting with him on efforts to build a stable foundation for peace in the Middle East," Bush spokesman Ari Fleischer said in a statement, cited by AFP.
The Daily Star newspaper reported that Hariri will head a 57-member economic and political delegation to Washington, adding that the visit was at Hariri’s request.
Hariri will also hold talks with World Bank president James Wolfensohn. The visit is the first by a high-ranking Lebanese official since last fall’s US elections.
Preparations are also under way for the prime minister to meet with media organizations before traveling to Atlanta on April 27 for a medical check-up, added the paper.
Hariri may also stop in New York before moving on to Canada at the end of April.
A source said an itinerary for the premier’s visit had yet to be finalized, but that Hariri might not be able to meet with Secretary of State Colin Powell, as the latter is scheduled to be in Africa from April 25-26.
During his meeting with Bush, “Hariri is expected to reiterate his readiness to resume peace talks with Israel on the basis of the 1991 Madrid Conference principles, provided negotiations also include Syria,” said the source.
Another issue expected to be on the agenda is the US desire for troops to be deployed along Lebanon’s southern border a move authorities are reluctant to make so long as Israel occupies the Shabaa Farms.
A third issue is the fate of the four Israelis captured by the Lebanese Hizbollah movement last year, added the source.
Washington is said to favor government intervention that would permit international Red Cross delegates to visit the captives.
The Lebanese government, however, has said the issue will only be discussed as part of an exchange for 19 Lebanese currently detained in Israel.
US officials are also expected to brief Hariri on preparations to help clear land mines in the south, including the participation of American experts in a meeting to be held May 6, the paper added.
That meeting would be in advance of a May 21 conference on de-mining the south -- Albawaba.com
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