THU 22 - 8 - 2019
Jul 16, 2019
The Daily Star
Saudi Arabia to revive political, economic role in Lebanon
Joseph Haboush & Hussein Dakroub| The Daily Star
BEIRUT: Saudi Arabia is ready to refocus attention on Lebanon to revive the political and economic role the kingdom traditionally had, senior Lebanese politicians heard during a visit to Jeddah Monday.
“The Saudis are serious in regaining the political and economic role they had long played in Lebanon,” former Prime Minister Fouad Siniora told The Daily Star upon returning from the trip.
This, he said, was the Saudi position relayed to him and former premiers Tammam Salam and Najib Mikati during their meetings with Saudi King Salman and Foreign Minister Ibrahim Assaf.
The three former premiers left Beirut early Monday before returning later in the evening.
“The visit was a step in the right direction toward refocusing Saudi attention on the Lebanese situation,” Siniora added.
Salam said that he and his compatriots had requested the meetings after seeing the keenness of the kingdom in Lebanese stability. “There are Saudi tourists coming to Lebanon, the Saudi Shura Council came to visit Beirut and, recently, Saudi Arabia invited Lebanese Army chief [Gen. Joseph Aoun] for an official visit,” Salam told The Daily Star in a phone call Monday night.
During the meetings with the Saudi king and foreign minister, the Lebanese delegation heard about Riyadh’s insistence on Lebanese stability, sovereignty and independence.
“They [Saudi Arabia] care about Lebanon’s stability and independence, and ensuring Lebanon is not pulled into the regional developments taking place,” Salam said.
A statement on the Saudi Press Agency said the king and Lebanese delegation discussed a number of issues pertaining to fraternal relations “reiterating the firm stance of the Kingdom toward Lebanon’s security and stability, the importance of maintaining Lebanon within its Arab context, and latest updates in the Lebanese arena.”
Local media reported that there was also supposed to be a meeting with Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman. Salam said the prince was out of town. “We were hoping for him to be back and see him.”
Asked if the Saudis pledged any financial or economic aid to Lebanon or the country’s Central Bank, Salam said: “We proposed several ideas of ways the kingdom could support Lebanon. The foreign minister heard our proposals - ranging from Eurobond purchases and deposits into the Central Bank - expressing openness and interest.”In January, Qatar - Saudi’s regional foe - announced that it would buy $500 million in bonds from the Lebanese Central Bank.
Shortly after, at an economic summit in Davos, Saudi Arabia’s finance minister said the kingdom would go “all the way” to support Lebanon.
This has yet to materialize, but Salam said he hoped all forms of support for Lebanon would appear soon.
Following the meeting with the king, the former premiers headed to the Saudi Foreign Ministry to meet with Foreign Minister Ibrahim al-Assaf.
Shortly after their arrival Monday morning, Siniora said the visit emphasized the importance of the Saudi-Lebanese relationship.
The former premier said Lebanon must commit to its policy of dissociation from regional conflicts “in words and in action.” He took a jab at Hezbollah saying that its commitment to the Lebanese government’s dissociation policy was purely “ink on paper.”
Salam, when asked if Hezbollah was brought up in the talks, said that Saudi Arabia’s stance on Iran “won’t change.”
“They don’t want Lebanon to join regional developments and are very keen on strengthening the state institutions,” he added.
The three-member Lebanese delegation was received upon their arrival in Jeddah by Saudi royal court envoy Nizar al-Aloula, Saudi Ambassador to Lebanon Walid Bukhari and other officials. The three had met with Prime Minister Saad Hariri Sunday night to discuss domestic issues. “The visit of the former prime ministers to Saudi Arabia carries the features of a promising future for strengthening relations between the two countries,” Bukhari to LBCI.
In January 2016, Saudi Arabia suspended $4 billion in grants to the Lebanese Army and Internal Security Forces. A week later the Saudi Cabinet, doubled down and reaffirmed that it had made the right decision.
The kingdom cited stances taken by Hezbollah and that Riyadh was met with anti-Saudi rhetoric despite all its support to Lebanon.
This came after Hezbollah Secretary-General Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah criticized Saudi Arabia’s intervention in Yemen as well as Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil’s refusal to vote for designating the Iran-backed group as a terrorist organization during an Arab League Summit.
The grant has not been restored despite efforts by Lebanese officials.
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