Lebanon took the first step this week to restoring relations with Iraq, rescinding a 1994 decision to break off ties with Baghdad, a senior Lebanese official told AFP Saturday, March 10. "The government cancelled during a cabinet session late Thursday the decision to cut diplomatic relations with Iraq," the official said.
The move, which had not been announced at the end of the cabinet session along with other decisions adopted by the government, paves the way for re-establishing ties between the two countries, he said.
It was not known when Beirut and Iraq would exchange embassies or the level to which they would increase their ties.
On Saturday, Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri met with Kuwaiti Ambassador in Beirut Mohammad Said Al-Sallal to inform him of the Lebanese government decision, officials said. Al-Sallal did not wish to make a statement on the issue at the end of the meeting.
Observers here said Lebanese authorities do not wish the move to anger Kuwait, which has offered hundreds of millions of dollars in assistance to Lebanon since the end of its 1975-1990 devastating civil war.
The senior Lebanese official said Beirut's 1994 decision to cut diplomatic ties with Baghdad was not linked to the 1990 Gulf War, which erupted when Iraq invaded neighboring Kuwait. "It was because of a security incident in Beirut and now that the incident is over, the council of ministers decided in its last session to rescind the decision," he said. "The move came because of improving bilateral economic relations and due to the need to facilitate consular affairs," he added.
Lebanon cut relations with Iraq in 1994 after an Iraqi dissident was murdered in Beirut, but since 1997 ties have warmed, as have Baghdad's links with neighboring Syria, the main powerbroker in Lebanon.
Last year, Lebanon and Iraq decided to exchange representation offices to handle commercial and consular affairs. Lebanon has also joined a steady flow of Arab aid flights trying to end the international embargo imposed on Iraq since its 1990 invasion of neighboring Kuwait.
Lebanese businesses have been strongly lobbying for a normalization of relations with Baghdad in order to increase the volume of trade with Iraq, which stands at about $370 million annually. Before the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in 1990, Lebanon's exports to Iraq made up 20 percent of its total annual exports and were estimated at more than a billion dollars. — (AFP, Beirut)
© Agence France Presse 2001
© 2001 Mena Report (www.menareport.com)