Hurd aims to boost trade with Lebanon

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The Independent Online
BEIRUT (AFP) - The Foreign Secretary, Douglas Hurd, arrived here yesterday at the start of a Middle East tour, becoming the highest-ranking British official to visit Lebanon in two decades.

Mr Hurd was to have talks with President Elias Hrawi, the Prime Minister, Rafiq Hariri, and the Foreign Minister, Faris Buwayz, on ways to boost economic ties and restart the stalled Lebanese-Israeli peace talks. He then goes to Israel, the occupied territories and Jordan and is also due to meet Palesinian officials in Jerusalem. He returns home on Friday after a visit to Malta.

Mr Hurd's visit to Lebanon is the first by a British foreign secretary since the 1975-1990 civil war, which was marked by abductions of foreigners.

More than 100 representatives of British firms travelled to Lebanon last year to explore investment opportunities, according to the British embassy.

The UK-based management consultants KPMG secured a deal to help overlook, prepare documents and assist in the planning of Lebanon's Council of Development and Reconstruction. The British firm Trafalgar House applied for a tender to take part in the expansion of Beirut International Airport, where a pounds 272m reconstruction programme is expected to be launched this year.

The president of the Lebanese industrialists' association, Jacques Sarraf, is expected to lead a delegation of businessmen to London later this month to discuss ways of bolstering ties between the two countries. Also in 1994, Britain hopes to reopen in Beirut the British Council offices, which were closed in 1986.

Around 300 Britons live in Lebanon, not including 5,000 people who hold dual British and Lebanese nationalities.