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French Version

Hariri: 'War will not be the end of the world' - PM accentuates positive in speech to saudi investors - The Daily Star

Prime Minister Rafik Hariri told hundreds of Saudi investors Monday not to be intimidated by the threat of war against Iraq or the occasional skirmishes along the Lebanese-Israeli border, and to continue investing in Lebanon and Saudi Arabia."We hope that war will not be declared on Iraq.

But if war does occur it will not be the end of the world," Hariri told participants in the last day of the Lebanese Saudi Economic Forum in Riyadh.

In response to a question from a Saudi investor on the possible impact of war on Iraq, Hariri said the Lebanese and Saudis should have faith in God and their countries."We should not change our plans just because war will break out in the region. We have passed through many difficult situations in Lebanon and we survived," he answered. Hariri said the chances of war against Iraq are getting stronger, while stressing that Arab leaders did their utmost to prevent it from happening.

Concerning the occasional fighting between Israeli forces and Hizbullah, Hariri said Israel is still occupying a small strip of Lebanon and it was only natural for Lebanese to try and restore it. The latest Hizbullah attack in the Shebaa Farms was on Jan. 21, although the front has been generally quiet in recent months. "Lebanon is a good place to invest," Hariri said. "The country underwent a civil war and yet was able to preserve a free economy." Hariri also said the heated debate between members of the same government, as has been taking place of late, is part of Lebanon's political life and should not cause any concern to the outside investor."There is nothing unusual about debate in the government. We differ on some issues sometimes but we all abide by the Constitution," Hariri said.

Responding to another question from a Saudi businessman, the prime minister said Lebanon's political reality made it difficult to form a Cabinet consisting of one faction only."We must share power with other factions in the country and respect the views of other. Lebanon has a multi-faceted political and religious system and we must respect that." He stressed that it was impossible for a single group to form a Cabinet by itself, in response to the questioner's encouragement for Hariri to do just that.

Hariri, who received a standing ovation from both Lebanese and Saudi participants, also underscored the need to remove bureaucratic procedures in some Arab states, wondering how can a country that wants to open up its economy to other nations insist on preserving obsolete laws.

Citing an example, Hariri said some of the Arab states block the entrance of Lebanese goods into their countries under the pretext that these items do not match certain conditions such as country of origin certificates."Our government is willing to tear up all the bureaucratic paperwork provided the rest of the Arab states do the same."He added that if Arab states want to create a free zone then the first thing to do is scrap some of the exiting laws. "If we want to become a major economic power then we should be up to this task," he said.

Hariri commented on interest rates on deposits and loans."I can assure you that this year, interest rates on both deposits and loans will even drop further to encourage private investments," Hariri said. He said that following the success of "Paris II," the Central Bank reduced interest rates on two-year Treasury bills by more than 7 percent. Hariri added that Lebanese banks are willing to grant loans to Arab Gulf investors if they decide to invest in the country. Some of the Saudi investors urged Hariri to try harder to persuade Lebanese banks to invest in Arab states.

They also warned Hariri that keeping large amounts of cash funds in the banks will not help the economy in the long run."Interest rates should drop even further if Lebanon wants to attract more investments," one Saudi investor told Hariri. Hariri said the government wants to give the Investment Development Authority of Lebanon more powers to encourage investors to come to Lebanon.

Beirut 04-02-2003
Osama Habib
The Daily Star

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