Lebanese PM Hariri pays fruitful visit to the United States

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Hariri hails Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques’ dialogue initiative

United States President Barack Obama hosted Prime Minister Saad Hariri at the White House on Monday as the US leader raised concerns about Syria arming Hezbollah.

Hariri had met earlier on Monday with top US officials to discuss Arab-Israeli peace and Iran’s nuclear plans, in addition to Syria’s alleged transfer of arms to Lebanon’s Hezbollah, US officials said.

Lebanon and Syria have said they fear a possible attack by Israel after its president, Shimon Peres, accused Syria in April of supplying Hezbollah with long-range Scud missiles capable of hitting Israel. Damascus has denied the charge and accused Israel of fomenting war.

Jeffrey Feltman, the assistant secretary of state for Near East affairs, and the former US ambassador to Lebanon met for about an hour with Hariri.

“We discussed the key role of Lebanon in the long-term effort to build a lasting, comprehensive peace in the Middle East,” Feltman said, reading a statement afterward.

“Realizing this goal will help the region move forward and enjoy greater prosperity and stability. The importance of achieving this is clear to everyone,” Feltman told reporters.

A senior State Department official also told reporters on condition of anonymity that Feltman and Hariri talked about “the importance of the upcoming vote on the resolution” for new UN Security Council sanctions against Iran.

Lebanon, which has members from the pro-Iranian Hezbollah as part of the government, is perceived to be one of the countries on the 15-member UN Security Council opposed to new sanctions against Iran. The others are Turkey and Brazil.

Feltman alluded to concerns about the risk of a new war between Israel and Lebanon’s Hezbollah when he stressed the need to carry out resolutions relating to the border area.

“We discussed the need for full implementation of all relevant Security Council Resolutions, including resolutions 1559, 1680, and 1701, as well as the need for continued international support for the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL),” he said.

Also on Monday, Hariri visited headquarters of the International Monitory Fund (IMF) where he met its Managing Director Dominique Strauss-Kahn along with top officials.

The meeting was attended by Lebanese Ambassador to the US Antoine Shadid and Finance Minister Rayya Haffar Hassan along with Hariri’s adviser Mohammad Shatah.

After the talks, Hariri announced that the IMF considered Lebanon among the most advanced states on economic levels in the Middle East at a time when other economies were facing difficulties.

Hariri relayed to reporters the IMF’s support for the adopted financial policies in Lebanon, stressing the institution’s positive view of the 2010 budget.

“Relations between us and the IMF have witnessed great improvement nowadays unlike in previous years,” said Hariri.

Asked about expectations from his visit, Hariri said he aimed to protect Lebanon and cement its stability, “in this region that witnessed so many wars.”

He highlighted that the region would not see any progress “if peace was not achieved and rights were not returned to those who claim them.”

Hariri is expected to head to New York on Wednesday to chair the Security Council session. The premier is accompanied by a delegation of ministers including Defense Minister Elias Murr, Foreign Affairs Minister Ali Shami, Minister of State Wael Abu Faour, Social Affairs Minister Salim al-Sayegh, and Finance Minister Rayya Haffar Hassan.

Hariri’s aide Nader Hariri along with his advisers Hani Hammoud and Mazen Hanna were among the delegation as well.

Hariri, attending his first UN Security Council meeting on Wednesday, said inter-religious and cultural dialogue may contribute to solving Middle East conflicts.

"This is true in our country, which has been subjected to 25 years of Israeli occupation and recurrent Israeli wars," Hariri said. He said the Israeli occupation of Lebanon resulted in "thousands" of Lebanese killed and economic downturn.

He made no mention of Syria, which stationed military troops in Lebanon for over three decades and withdrew in mid-2005 after it was implicated in the murder in February, 2005, of the senior Rafik Hariri, a former prime minister.

The 15-nation council held a debate on inter-cultural and religious dialogue as a way of helping peace and security around the worldwide. Hariri presided over the session because Lebanon holds the council presidency in May.

"The need for dialogue between people of different faiths and cultures is far greater today in view of the problems faced in the relations between peoples and communities," he said.

Hariri pointed out the importance of dialogue in Lebanon's Muslim and Christian populations as well as political parties.

Lebanon's prime minister addressed the United Nations arguing that Israeli-Palestinian peace remains hindered by what he called an occupation of Arab lands.

Hariri used Lebanon's seat as president of the U.N. Security Council for May to lead a session Wednesday discussing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Hariri argued for "pre-emptive diplomacy" in the region to address the root problems between Israelis and Palestinians. Hariri called Israel's settlements an occupation of Arab territories that undermined any chance for peace negotiations, the Daily Star in Lebanon reported.

"How could dialogue build confidence with continued Israeli occupation of Palestinian and Arab lands and the persistent denial of the national and human rights of the Palestinian people and more particularly their right to return to an independent state with Jerusalem as its capital," Hariri said in a statement to the Security Council.

Earlier Wednesday, Hariri warned that the stalled peace negotiations between Israel and Palestine, continues to promote extremism and terrorism which he said threatens moderate governments in the region.

Hariri also hailed Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Al Saud's initiative for dialogue among followers of religions and cultures.

In his speech, Hariri said, the ‘session is a continuation of the efforts exerted by Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques in the session by the General Assembly of the United Nations’ on dialogue among followers of religions and cultures in 2009.

In a similar speech, United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon also hailed the Third Civilization Alliance in which he will participate on Friday in Rio de Janeiro as an extension of the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Al Saud's international initiative for dialogue among followers of religions and cultures.