|Western envoys discuss deployments to UNIFIL
|Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos arrived in Beirut late Tuesday for high-level talks on implementing UN Security Council Resolution 1701, including the deployment of Spanish peacekeeping troops in South Lebanon.
Earlier, Italy's defense minister toured bases of the UNited nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) in a flash visit to the South as French President Jacques Chirac met with Italian President Giorgio Napolitano on their nations' participation in the peacekeeping force.
Moratinos' visit is part of a regional tour which has also taken him to Israel and the Palestinian Territories.
Speaking at a joint news conference with acting Foreign Minister Tariq Mitri, Moratinos said that Spain will continue to support and cooperate with Lebanon "politically, diplomatically, economically and militarily."
He said that the deployment of Spanish troops "will help speed up the Israeli withdrawal from Lebanese territory."
"The commitment of the Spanish regiment to UNIFIL aims for the complete and effective implementation of Resolution 1701," he said.
For his part, Mitri said that the UN force's main mission is "to help the Lebanese Army fulfill its duties and take control" of South Lebanon, adding "this does not mean that those forces are here to forcefully disarm Hizbullah."
Spain will also be dispatching what Moratinos described as "a cooperation mission" in the near future to help specify the number and nature of projects for which Spain has allocated 125 million euros ($159 million), Moratinos said. The team will also help in the process of de-mining and beach cleaning, he added before meeting with Prime Minister Fouad Siniora.
Separately, Italian Defense Minister Arturo Parisi on Tuesday met with his Lebanese counterpart, Elias Murr, to discuss Italy's participation in UNIFIL.
"Italy is keen on supporting the Lebanese people to recover their sovereignty and reinforcing the state's authority over its territories," Parisi said.
"We discussed the cooperation between the Lebanese military and Italian naval forces and the weaponry needed by Lebanese troops to defend their country," Murr later said.
"I will visit Italy soon to hold in-depth discussions over the issue," he added.
Murr, commenting on Israeli calls for the US to arm the Lebanese Army, said: "Neither has the United States proposed to arm the Lebanese Army nor does [the army] accept to take up arms upon the request of any country."
"The army only carries weapons because it needs to defend its land in the face of Israel and terrorism," he added.
Parisi also met with Siniora for talks on Italy's role in UNIFIL. No comments were released after the meeting.
The minister's one-day trip came as the 1,000-strong Italian force that landed in Lebanon last week became fully operational and took control of a 275-square-kilometer sector stretching along the coast from the Israeli border to the Litani River, said Admiral Paulo Confessore, the Italian contingent's commander.
"My visit comes to salute our soldiers on the day they begin their peacekeeping mission in full," Parisi said while inspecting the Italians' temporary base in the Southern village of Bourj Kalawai.
"This mission is a historic one for Italy," a heavily protected Parisi said.
"With the near-unanimous approval of the Italian Parliament, our troops have come here to defend the security of Israel and to comfort the Lebanese state," he told The Associated Press.
The Daily Star