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Aoun the ‘best choice’ for Lebanon, Qatar emir says

Lebanese leader Michel Aoun waves to the crowd outside the Presidential Palace in Baabda.

Lebanese leader Michel Aoun waves to the crowd outside the Presidential Palace in Baabda.

Reuters/Jamal Saidi

12 January 2017

DOHA: The emir of Qatar Wednesday praised the election of President Michel Aoun as the “best choice” for Lebanon, saying the country has entered a new stage following the end of the 29-month presidential vacuum.

During a meeting with Aoun at the emir’s palace in Doha, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani pledged to follow up the case of nine Lebanese soldiers held hostage by Daesh (ISIS) for more than two years.

Among other things, Aoun and Sheikh Tamim agreed on the revival of the meetings of the Higher Joint Committee formed by the two countries to be headed by the prime ministers of Lebanon and Qatar, according to a statement released by the president’s media office. It said that a date for a committee meeting to discuss ways to expand bilateral cooperation would be set later.

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The Aoun-Sheikh Tamim meeting, which was attended by key ministers from both countries, discussed ways to improve and boost bilateral relations, the statement said. It added that Lebanese ministers also discussed matters related to their fields as well as ways to facilitate experience sharing.

As well as the case of the nine Lebanese servicemen held by Daesh since Aug. 2014, the talks also included the case of Greek Orthodox Archbishop Boulos Yazigi and Syriac Orthodox Archbishop Yohanna Ibrahim who were abducted in April 2013 by armed men while travelling from the Turkish border to Aleppo. Aoun also raised the case of Lebanese cameraman Samir Kassab, who was kidnapped by gunmen while working near Aleppo on assignment for the U.K’s Sky News channel in Oct. 2013. The statement added that Aoun expressed hope that Qatar would make efforts to determine the fate of these missing people, having assisted in securing the release of kidnapped people in the past. It added that the Qatari emir promised that the country would pursue efforts in this respect, despite the sensitivity of the issue.

Aoun, accompanied by a high-ranking delegation of eight key ministers, arrived in Doha earlier in the day following a two-day official visit to Saudi Arabia. In Riyadh, he held crucial talks with King Salman bin Abdul-Aziz that also focused on bolstering bilateral ties.

Qatar is Aoun’s second and final stop on a Gulf tour primarily aimed at improving ties, seeking to ease restrictions against Gulf citizens traveling to Lebanon and reviving frozen Saudi grants worth $4 billion to the Lebanese Army and security forces.

Aoun and Sheikh Tamim held a closed-door meeting that lasted nearly half an hour ahead of the expanded talks attended by ministers from both countries.

Speaking at the enlarged meeting, the Qatari emir expressed his joy at Aoun’s visit in view of the “very strong ties between the two countries, especially since the visit would help improve contacts between officials in both countries and Lebanese-Qatari relations.”

“Lebanon has entered a new stage following the presidential election. President Aoun is the best choice because [he] will steer the country to safer shores,” the Qatari emir said, according to the statement.

He pointed out that Lebanon had encountered “many difficulties and challenges but was able to overcome them and was stronger than the circumstances surrounding it.”

Thanking the emir for his hospitality, Aoun said he highly appreciated bilateral relations, adding that they should be enhanced in various fields.

The president commended the stable security situation in Lebanon, particularly the “pre-emptive operations carried out by the Lebanese Army and security forces in fighting terrorism.”

The Qatari emir said his country was ready to contribute toward development projects in Lebanon, adding that he encouraged Qatari businessmen to invest in the country.

The two sides agreed to sign a double taxation agreement, a ministerial source with the Lebanese delegation told The Daily Star.

Aoun also brought up the strain caused to Lebanon by hosting more than 1 million Syrian refugees, the source said. He added that the Qatari emir had promised to increase aid to Lebanon to assist with this.

In addition to discussing regional developments, the situation in Syria and the importance of reaching a political solution to restore stability to the war-ravaged country and end the sufferings of Syrian refugees, Aoun also brought up the case of Lebanese nationals deported from Qatar being able to reunite with their families.

The two sides agreed to study this matter carefully and positively, the statement said, noting that there were 24,000 Lebanese living in Qatar.

At the end of the talks, the emir hosted a lunch for Aoun and the accompanying delegation, which was also attended joined by senior Qatari officials.

However, conflicting views emerged during the discussions on the Syrian conflict.

While the Qatari emir reiterated his country’s position of being opposed to the Syrian regime and President Bashar Assad, Aoun stressed that only a political solution could end the conflict in Syria, a ministerial sources told The Daily Star.

Aoun said that he was waiting for the outcome of the Syria peace talks in Kazak capital later this month, stressing that “wars cannot be resolved by arms.”

When the Lebanese president noted that intervention by foreign countries in the Syrian conflict was preventing the Syrians from reaching an agreement, Sheikh Tamim said that viewpoints in this respect were identical, the source said.

Later, addressing Lebanese expatriates in Doha, Aoun said that Lebanese unity was pivotal to preserving the country’s security and stability.

“Our unity with each other has led to maintaining security and stability. A new rule began with the election of a president and the formation of a government. Decisions were taken quickly with absolute priority to building Lebanon,” Aoun said during a reception held in his honor by the Lebanese Ambassador to Qatar Hasan Najem at the Sheraton Hotel in Doha Wednesday night.

“All indications at the beginning of this term show that Lebanon is on the right track,” he said. Aoun said the government was working to draw up “integrated economic plans” to provide electricity, water and roads as well as implement development projects.

© Copyright The Daily Star 2017.

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