Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri on Friday downplayed the absence of the majority of Arab leaders and senior officials from Beirut's Arab Economic and Social Development Summit, saying success lies in holding the summit despite the controversy that has surrounded it.
“Regardless of representation, success lies in holding this summit because there was an attempt to prevent it from taking place,” Hariri told reporters after meeting Arab League chief Ahmed Abul Gheit.
“What's important is that the summit has taken place and any present delegation is representing its country,” the PM-designate added.
“I expect the summit to achieve positive results and its convention in Lebanon is a very good thing,” Hariri went on to say.
Organizers of the summit initially said that seven Arab heads of state would attend Sunday's summit which is being held in Lebanon for the first time. But only two heads of state are now expected, the leaders of Somalia and Mauritania, after several others pulled out despite previously having confirmed their attendance.
Their absence appeared to be a snub to Lebanon, where pro-Syrian groups led by the Iranian-backed Hizbullah have insisted that the Syrian government should be invited.
The summit, which Lebanon had hoped would boost Lebanon's sinking economic credentials, has been marred by controversy days before delegates arrive. Inviting Syria was only one issue. A days-long debate raged over whether Libya should get an invitation, because of the unresolved mystery surrounding the disappearance of revered Lebanese Shiite cleric Moussa al-Sadr in Libya four decades ago. Libya decided to stay away from the meeting after Lebanese supporters of the cleric tore down a Libyan flag on a Beirut street.
The AESD was formed in 2009 as an exclusively economic and development conference that tends to involve the private sector, including banks, chambers of commerce, industry and agriculture. The agenda does not include the reconstruction of Syria, much of it ruined in nearly eight years of civil war.
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