Lebanon's President Conducts Public Diplomacy with the Lebanese in Australia ... and the Rest of Country


The Daily Star

Sleiman visits Australia to tackle diaspora concerns, bilateral ties
By Antoine Ghattas Saab
BEIRUT: President Michel Sleiman leaves Saturday for a one-week official visit to Australia, where his agenda will range from the concerns of the Lebanese diaspora to bilateral ties and fighting terror.
Sleiman will be accompanied by Deputy Prime Minister Samir Moukbel, Foreign Minister Adnan Mansour and Public Works Minister Ghazi Aridi, with the delegation scheduled to stop in the capital Canberra, Sydney and Melbourne.
Baabda Palace sources said the visit will focus on sounding out the Lebanese community on their participation in next year’s scheduled parliamentary elections after officials in Beirut promised to ensure that expatriate voting abroad will take place for the first time.
However, the sources said, Mansour has informed the president that enthusiasm in the diaspora appears to be lacking for now, even though his ministry has completed the necessary logistical arrangements for the process.
The sources said that while an estimated 11,000 Lebanese residing in Australia voted in the 2009 polls by flying to their country of origin, fewer than 10,000 people, according to Mansour, have registered at the Lebanese Embassy in Australia for the right to vote while remaining at home.
Sleiman’s trip is expected to focus on several concrete areas of improving bilateral relations.
One is cultural and educational exchange, as Lebanese officials hope to benefit from Australia’s multi-ethnic experience and establish stronger ties between universities in the two countries, which would lead to cultural and educational exchange programs and projects.
The Lebanese delegation is also expected to discuss the two countries’ trade balance, which is in favor of Australia, and seek Australian help for Lebanon’s agricultural industries.
As for the strictly political component of the visit, Sleiman and his accompanying delegation will hold talks on Middle East-related issues. The sources said that although Canberra is a staunch ally of Israel, it does support a two-state solution in Palestine.
The Australians are also concerned about combating terrorism, the sources continued, and Sleiman is expected to raise the issue of a number of Lebanese who spent time in Pakistan before heading to Australia, and whether they constituted a danger by embracing extremist ideologies.
The sources said that Sleiman’s visit will be important in terms of raising the morale of the Lebanese community abroad, by convincing members of the diaspora to visit and engage with their mother country.
The sources said rectifying the diaspora voting issue, and promoting interaction in various fields, will play a huge role in determining the visit’s success.

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