Lebanon: We want to be part of rebuilding Iraq

Lebanese President Michel Aoun (C) is seen during a visit to the Church of Our Lady of Deliverance in Baghdad’s Karrada neighborhood on Feb. 20, 2018. (Sabah Arar/AFP)
Updated 21 February 2018
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Lebanon: We want to be part of rebuilding Iraq

BAGHDAD: Lebanese President Michel Aoun expressed his country’s desire to be involved in the reconstruction of Iraq, the fight against terrorism, and to boost trade and tourism between the two countries, Iraqi officials told Arab News on Tuesday.

Aoun, who is visiting Iraq for the first time since taking office in Lebanon in 2016, arrived in Baghdad on Tuesday morning accompanied by Lebanese ministers on a one-day visit at the invitation of Iraqi President Fuad Masum. He met Iraqi officials, including the prime minister and the speaker of the parliament, to discuss joint interests.

Officials from Masum’s office told Arab News that the Lebanese had come to Baghdad to discuss “four essential” issues: the participation of Lebanese companies in the reconstruction of Iraq; cooperation between the two countries in counter-terrorism; investments projects and reinforcing trade and tourism exchange; and Lebanese debts incurred against Iraq.

“Lebanese companies are interested in coming to Iraq to work in the field of reconstruction. This is a key point (in discussions), in addition to cooperation in combating terrorism and promoting trade and tourism exchanges,” Hussien Al-Hindawi, Masum’s media adviser, told Arab News.

“They are looking to obtain some facilities that allow Lebanese companies to sign up for the reconstruction of Iraq and to obtain some investment projects in addition to customs facilities that contribute to increasing Lebanese exports to Iraq,” Al-Hindawi said.

In October, Iraq declared the end of military operations against militants and announced the start of reconstruction of war-affected areas. More than 150 investment projects, including dozens of mega projects, were presented by Iraq a week ago at the international conference for reconstruction in Kuwait, in coordination with the Kuwaiti government, the International Monetary Fund and the UN.

Most Arab and international companies are looking for facilities and guarantees for projects worth several billion dollars, specifically in oil and reconstruction.

Iraq is one of the most important markets for Lebanese goods in the region — about 10 percent of Lebanese exports are consumed annually. However, exports have decreased since 2011 because of additional costs caused by the suspension of transport through Syrian territory after the outbreak of civil war and the increase in customs duties imposed by Iraqi authorities on imported goods.

The debts owed to Iraqi traders since 2003, estimated at $1 billion, were also part of the talks, Iraqi officials told Arab News.

Nicola Tueni, minister of state for anti-corruption, who is keeping tabs on the file of debts, was among the Lebanese delegation.

“The Lebanese president is under pressure from his people to engage in reconstruction and investment projects in Iraq,” an Iraqi official involved in the talks told Arab News on condition of anonymity.

“They filed a formal request to reduce the customs duties on Lebanese goods and are currently negotiating to acquire some investments for extinguishing the old debts,” the official said.

“We can get a good deal. They are strongly looking to come back to work in the south, at the same time we need all possible efforts to rebuild our country.”


Prince William on first official royal visit to Occupied Territories and Israel

On his first official visit to Israel and Palestine, Prince William is unlikely to talk about politics. Getty Images
Updated 23 June 2018
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Prince William on first official royal visit to Occupied Territories and Israel

  • The second-in-line to the British throne is due to meet Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
  • There is a pretty naked desire to build relationships and Israel is a warm target for an increase in trade

LONDON: Prince William will embark on the first official visit to Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories by a member of the British royal family on Sunday.

But even with more than 120 Palestinians killed in protests in Gaza during recent weeks and controversy still surrounding the opening of the US embassy in Jerusalem, the second-in-line to the throne is not expected to talk politics.
Chris Doyle, director of the Council for Arab-British Understanding (CAABU), told Arab News that the four-day tour is likely to focus on making trade deals in preparation for Britain’s departure from the EU next year, rather than on addressing the moribund Middle East peace process.
“There is a pretty naked desire to build relationships and Israel is a warm target for an increase in trade,” he said.
The visit risks “normalizing” the abusive regime under which Palestinians live, he added.
“Of course Prince William has to go to both the Israeli and Palestinian sectors or there would have been outrage. But there is a risk of his visit making it appear more acceptable and normal to carry out abuses of international law like the blockade of Gaza,” Doyle said.
William begins his Middle Eastern tour on Sunday in Jordan, a long-time ally of Britain. On Tuesday he will move on to Jerusalem, where he will visit Yad Vashem, the official memorial to Holocaust victims, meet Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and later attend a football event with a mixed Arab and Jewish team.
On Wednesday he will meet young activists, both Arab and Jewish, who are involved in education and social programs, and also cross into the Occupied Palestinian Territories to meet Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah before attending an event focusing on Palestinian refugees.
He is due to deliver a speech at a reception hosted by the American consul in Jerusalem. However, protocol prevents him from making any remarks that might be deemed partisan. Doyle told Arab News this was a pity in view of how William’s mother, the late Princess Diana, championed justice for the oppressed.
“It is a pity that someone of his status, who clearly cares about his mother’s legacy, cannot give voice to real major concerns about the treatment of the Palestinians and the human rights abuses that are daily issues for them under Israeli control but which will be airbrushed out,” he said.
“Yes, he will see co-operative programs and Arabs and Jews playing football together, but the reality is that the Palestinian footballers can only travel to matches with Israeli permission.”
William was a surprise choice for the visit. Many expected the task to fall to his father, Prince Charles, who has more experience of countries which are politically extremely sensitive. But it is thought he was chosen because his youth chimes better with young Israelis working in hi-tech fields who he is scheduled to meet. Among Palestinians, his presence will barely register, said Doyle.
“I hope the language can be found for him to say something to his Israeli hosts, that his visit will be more than window-dressing, but the reality is it’s very unlikely. So the visit won’t register as important with Palestinians. They don’t want to be part of some tourist show or box-ticking exercise,” he said.