Lebanon’s recently elected President Michel Aoun landed in Saudi Arabia on Monday, his first state visit since taking office after a tense year in Saudi-Lebanese ties.
Upon arrival at King Khalid International Airport, Aoun was received by Prince Faisal bin Bandar bin Abdulaziz, Governor of Riyadh Region, Dr. Ibrahim Al-Assaf, Minister of State and Member of the Cabinet, who serves as guide minister, Eng. Ibrahim bin Mohammed Al-Sultan, Mayor of Riyadh Region, Counselor Waleed bin Abdullah Bukhari, Charge d’Affaires at the Saudi embassy in Beirut, Abdulaziz Abu-Harbah, Director of KKIA, and Abdusattar Mohammed Isa, Lebanon’s Ambassador to the Kingdom, the official Saudi Press Agency (SPA) reported.
King Salman bin Abdul Aziz of Saudi Arabia, Custodian of the Two Holly Mosques held Tuesday a round of official talks with President of the Lebanese Republic General Michel Aoun.
The Saudi Press Agency (SPA) reported that the talks focused on reviewing bilateral relations and the means to enhance them in all fields. They also discussed the latest regional and international developments.
Aoun’s election in November by Lebanese lawmakers ended a two-year deadlock between Iran- and Saudi-backed blocs in Parliament. The Maronite Christian, a former Army Chief, clinched the post with shock support from Saudi ally Sa’ad Hariri, a leading Sunni figure who in return was named Prime Minister.
Analysts say Saudi Arabia is hoping for a more stable Lebanon, after Riyadh’s concerns about the role played by Hezbollah in Lebanon’s government. The Iran-allied Shiite militant group has fighters in Syria supporting forces of President Bashar al-Assad. Saudi Arabia, Iran’s regional rival, backs some rebels opposed to Assad.
Riyadh last March declared Hezbollah a “terrorist organization” and urged its citizens to leave Lebanon. In February, the Kingdom halted a $3 billion program of military aid to Lebanon to protest what it said was “the stranglehold of Hezbollah on the state”.
Anwar Eshki, a retired Saudi General and founder of the independent Middle East Centre for Strategic and Legal Studies, told AFP he expects the stalled military aid to figure in Aoun’s talks with Saudi officials.
The program, funded by Riyadh, would have provided vehicles, helicopters, drones, cannons and other military equipment from France.
“The only way for peace in Lebanon is to support Aoun,” the 81-year-old President, Eshki said. “The main goal of Saudi Arabia is to make Lebanon peaceful and independent,” and that includes its army, he added.
Aoun’s visit follows a late-November visit to Beirut by Prince Khaled al-Faisal, the Governor of Mecca who is also an Adviser to King Salman.
Prince Khaled’s visit showed that “Saudi Arabia did not disengage itself from Lebanon,” Tariq Alhomayed, former Editor-in-Chief of the pan-Arab Asharq Al-Awsat, wrote in a column for that newspaper.
General Michel Aoun arrived in Doha Wednesday on a two-day official visit to Qatar.
The Lebanese President and his accompanying delegation were welcomed upon arrival at Hamad International Airport by Qatar’s Minister of Finance Ali Shareef Al Emadi, Qatar’s Ambassador to the Lebanese Republic Ali bin Hamad Al Marri and Lebanon’s Ambassador to Qatar Hassan Qassim Najem.