| EU-Lebanese Trade Deal Cause for U.S. Concern |
Stratfor.com - 20.06.2002 23:57
Lebanon and the European Union signed an economic treaty June 17, and the
EU left the Lebanon-based Hezbollah group off a list of terrorist groups.
Both incidents illustrate the EU´s attempts to enhance its economic
presence in the Middle East -- which could put it at odds with Washington.
Lebanon and the European Union June 17 signed the Euro-Mediterranean
Treaty, which will allow for further political and economic cooperation
between the two, including the preparation of a free-trade agreement. Under
the deal both parties will eliminate all tariffs and quotas within 12
years. This is a boon for the EU, which exported $2.8 billion worth of
goods to Lebanon in 2000.
The Lebanese government hopes the agreement will attract direct foreign
investment to the country -- still recovering from the 1975 to 1990 civil
war -- and boost its sputtering economy. For the EU, the treaty also
furthers its goal of trying to secure more market access to North Africa
and the Middle East. But the ever-mounting integration of Europe into these
regions economically could pose problems for U.S. security policy.
Brussels already has signed association agreements with Tunisia, Morocco,
Israel, Jordan, Egypt and Algeria, and currently is negotiating for Syria
to join the Euro-Mediterranean treaty. Although the union traditionally has
sought to expand its economic ties to Mediterranean states like Lebanon,
now it is looking farther east as well.
For instance, EU foreign ministers agreed June 17 to negotiate closer trade
and political relations with Iran. While Europe is already Tehran´s main
trading partner -- importing $8 billion in Iranian goods and exporting $4.9
billion in European goods in 2000 -- European energy companies would like
greater access to one of the world´s largest sources of hydrocarbons.
The treaty between Lebanon and the EU coincides with a recent decision by
Brussels not to list the Lebanon-based militant group Hezbollah as a
terrorist organization, even while it included the Palestinian Al Aqsa
Martyrs Brigade and Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine.
Hezbollah has been conducting a guerrilla campaign against Israel since
1982 in response to the Jewish state´s occupation of Lebanon until 2000 and
its current occupation of the Shebaa Farms region on the Israeli-Lebanese
Over the last few months, the group has increased its sporadic rocket and
gunfire attacks over the border. Washington has placed Hezbollah on its
list of terrorist groups due to its alleged involvement in numerous attacks
including the suicide truck bombing on the U.S. Embassy and U.S. Marine
barracks in Beirut in October 1983.
By not blacklisting Hezbollah, the EU likely is making a concession to
Lebanon, Syria and Iran in order to receive greater access to Lebanon´s
markets in the short run and Syria´s and Iran´s in the future. Hezbollah
holds several seats in the Lebanese parliament and receives support from
Syria and Iran, which view the group´s members as freedom fighters opposing
the occupation of Lebanese territory. If the EU placed Hezbollah on its
terrorist list, then the group´s assets could be frozen in Europe,
complicating the Continent´s relationship with the three states.
Conflict could erupt between Washington and Brussels as the EU continues to
actively court countries in the region while the United States grows more
aggressive in pursuing its security goals. Washington has set its sights on
"axis of evil" members Iraq and Iran.
The United States would like to have Europe´s full support for its plans,
whether they include an invasion of Iraq or sanctions against Iran, but the
EU sees plenty of economic opportunities in the region and does not wish to
sacrifice its financial interests for U.S. strategic concerns. As Europe´s
economy grows increasingly intertwined with that of Middle Eastern states,
it will be less willing to completely go along with Washington´s plans and
alienate its new economic partners in the process.
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