Salam: We will not bow to jihadis

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Salam: We will not bow to jihadis
Mirella Hodeib| The Daily Star
Dec. 02, 2014

BRUSSELS: Prime Minister Tammam Salam said Monday Lebanon would not succumb to the will of the jihadis holding 26 Lebanese servicemen hostage as his government lobbied in Brussels to use the rest of an EU aid package to revamp its fragile infrastructure.

In the firmest remarks made since jihadis captured at least 26 servicemen in northeast Lebanon in August, Salam said the country would not accede to the will of the militants.

“The government will not bow to pressure and will not make concessions and will not allow the captors to take 4 million Lebanese hostages,” Salam said during a reception for the Lebanese community in Belgium organized by Ambassador Rami Mortada.

Salam spoke after Lebanese media circulated rumors that the Nusra Front was set to execute one of its Lebanese captives.

But it was the detrimental impact the Syrian refugee crisis has had on Lebanon’s host communities and already-weak infrastructure rather than the captured servicemen that was the main focus of Salam’s talks with officials here.

“EU and Belgian officials are entirely aware of the many burdens ensuing from the refugee crisis and the repercussions of the regional turmoil on Lebanon,” Salam told The Daily Star. “[Both] Belgian and EU officials highlighted Lebanon’s cohesion and the need to help Lebanon.”

Salam, who is the first top Arab official to meet with the new management of the EU, briefed EU commissioners – Johannes Hahn for Neighborhood Policy and Christos Stylianides for Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Management – on the challenges Lebanon’s host communities have endured as a result of the approximately 1.1 million Syrian refugees on Lebanese territories.

Salam also held separate talks with his Belgian counterpart Charles Michel and Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Affairs Minister Didier Reynders.

Salam said the goal of his two-day visit was two-fold: garnering more support for Lebanon in international circles and minimizing the fallout of the refugee crisis. “Nowadays, politics and economy go hand in hand, one cannot thrive without the other,” he added.

Economy Minister Alain Hakim, who is part of Salam’s official delegation in addition to Minister of State for Administrative Reform Nabil de Freij, told The Daily Star that the Lebanese government wanted the remainder of an EU allocation of more than 130 million euros ($164.8 million) for the years 2014-16 to be used to fund infrastructure projects across the country.Unveiled in November, the Lebanese government’s road map for assisting host communities dubbed “The Lebanon Recovery Fund” includes improving basic facilities such as area infrastructure and hospitals while also facilitating the provision of hydrocarbons, electricity and water.

“So far approximately 52 million euros have been paid,” Hakim said. “We are trying to convince EU officials to consign the rest of the allocation to fund infrastructure projects especially in host communities where it [infrastructure] has suffered the most.”

In October 2014, Hakim and former European Commissioner for Neighborhood Policy Stefan Fule inked a memorandum of understanding for the Single Support Framework setting the priorities and financial allocations for EU-Lebanon cooperation for 2014-16. The indicative allocation for Lebanon amounts to more than 30 million euros.

At the time, officials said the focus of EU-Lebanon cooperation for 2014-16 would center on three priority sectors: justice and security system reform; social cohesion, sustainable economic development and vulnerable groups; and sustainable and transparent management of energy and natural resources.

With the new EU appointments, Lebanon is hoping, according to Hakim, that the EU would revisit its fiscal policies regarding the country.

“The new Neighborhood Policy commissioner will most likely revise and reconsider the standing policies vis-a-vis countries in their neighborhood and the budgets allocated to those countries,” the economy minister said.

Hakim said his ministry would like to further discuss with the new commissioner Hahn, Lebanon’s allocations. “We [Economy Ministry] will be coming back here very soon for that purpose,” he added.

Hakim noted that the Lebanese government was also looking to come up with a “unified vision” with the EU over aid packages and coming up with a working framework so that aid would be earmarked through specialized funds like the Lebanon Recovery Fund and the Multi-Donor Trust Fund for Lebanon, which is overseen by the World Bank. “Those funds obey the strictest rules of transparency and accountability,” Hakim said.

Salam is expected to hold key talks in Brussels Tuesday with the new President of the EU Commission Jean-Claude Juncker and new EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Frederica Mogherini.

“The meeting with Mr. Juncker and Mrs. Mogherini is an essential part of the visit,” Salam told reporters. “We put high hopes on the new EU administration and hope that Lebanon will become a priority.”

The Lebanese prime minister is expected to hold a news conference following talks with the top EU officials. He will then head to the European Parliament to attend a session of the Foreign Affairs committee and will wrap up his official visit to Belgium with a meeting with EP President Martin Schulz.

While noting the “critical situation” in Lebanon and the region, Salam called for international support to be extended to the Lebanese Army and security forces dealing with terrorism.

Salam expressed hope to his Belgian counterpart Michel that Lebanon and Belgium “will find new methods of military cooperation” and achieve “new means of … developing bilateral relations.”