French President Jacques Chirac said Wednesday that the international community should act decisively to “show confidence” in Lebanon, adding that quick parliamentary passage of Lebanon’s 2003 draft budget would pave the way for the convening of the “Paris II” donor conference.
“Lebanon’s government has put forward proposals (for financial reform) that have been approved by the entire international community, and especially international financial institutions … these decisions should be implemented particularly in the framework of the budget,” Chirac said.
“It will not be easy to implement,” he acknowledged, “but the important thing is for the international community to feel that Lebanon has unanimously gone past division and petty politics … and that the budget will be endorsed as is and as soon as possible so that we, in effective fashion and with the agreement of the International Monetary Fund, can convene Paris II.”
Chirac made the remarks during an interview with Future TV and Radio-Orient in Paris before his arrival in Alexandria, Egypt to start a regional tour that will take him to Lebanon for the Ninth Francophone Summit.
He was referring to an ambitious draft budget by the government of Rafik Hariri, which aims to boost productivity through public sector reform, narrow the budget deficit, and ultimately reduce the cost of debt servicing. Hariri’s government is hoping to swap $5 billion of Lebanon’s $30 billion debt for lower-interest loans through Paris II.
The French president said he preferred to describe the process as one of the international community showing its “confidence” in Lebanon rather than merely extending assistance.
“Lebanon is a very rich country, in terms of its potential,” Chirac said. But after putting the civil war behind it, he added, “it’s legitimate to help Lebanon regain all of its potential to grow, which is very large.”
“The international community should make an effort to assist Lebanon. It must extend the hand of assistance to a friend that is experiencing a difficult path,” he added.
Chirac said he hoped that Paris II, which is being coordinated by former International Monetary Fund head Michel Camdessus, would convene by the end of the year.
As for the Wazzani Springs issue, Chirac called for “dialogue” and supported a solution based on international law.
The heated dispute between Lebanon and the Jewish state involves a Lebanese project to pump drinking water to Southern villages.
“I hope neither side will undertake any unhelpful step,” he said, announcing that a French expert would be dispatched to the region along with counterparts from the European Union, who have already studied the situation.
Chirac said he was sure that Lebanon would regain its “distinguished position as a bridge between East and West” after the destruction of civil war. “Before anything else, the principle of ‘respecting the other’ must return to Lebanon; I’m impressed by seeing Lebanese young people being so far removed from all the wars of the past.”
Chirac repeatedly addressed Lebanese young people during the interview, concluding his remarks by urging them to put themselves at the service of the country to build its future, and saying “be confident and remain in Lebanon.”