President Michel Aoun’s first foreign trip will reportedly be to Saudi Arabia where he intends to push for the reactivation of the Saudi multi billion dollar grant to arm the Lebanese army, As Safir daily reported on Saturday.
Preparations for the visit are ongoing, and the exact date will be set after the formation of the cabinet and after the cabinet wins a vote of confidence, the daily added.
The 3 billion dollar grant for the armament of the Lebanese army with French weapons was suspended last year by the kingdom in protest against the Lebanese government reaction to the burning of the Saudi embassy in Tehran and another Saudi consult in Iran.
Whether Aoun will be able to convince the Saudi’s to reactivate the grants is a huge challenge for the newly elected president and boils down to trust according to analysts, because he has been allied with Hezbollah for over 10 years and its is because of Hezbollah and Iran the Saudi’s canceled the grant.
Last February Saudi Arabia suspended the $3 billion grant for military supplies to the Lebanese army plus another $1 billion for supplies to the Lebanese security forces in response to the diplomatic stance by the Lebanese foreign ministry which was and continues to be headed by Aoun’s son-in-law Foreign minister Gebran Bassil.
Analysts are of the opinion that Saudi Arabia is concerned that Aoun, being a close ally of Hezbollah may allow the party to use some of the weapons in its war in nearby Syria where the militant group is helping the Syrian dictator Bashar al Assad against the Saudi backed rebels .
Hezbollah was created by Iran around 1982 and continues to be financially and politically backed by it. Iran remains Saudi Arabia’s regional rival , with whom relations have worsened this year.
Riyadh severed its diplomatic ties with Tehran in January after demonstrators stormed its embassy and a consulate and set them on fire following the Saudi execution of an Iranian backed Saudi Shiite cleric and activist.
In a related development Saudi Charge d’affairs Walid al-Bukhari met with caretaker Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil on Friday. His meeting signaled an improvement in relations between Lebanon and the Kingdom , al-Joumhouria daily reported on Saturday.
According to sources at the foreign ministry the atmospheres of talks was positive .
“Dialogue was positive, and the meeting came after previous strained relations between Lebanon and the Gulf State. There is no turning back and the Lebanese-Saudi relations are back on the right track, ” al-Joumhouria added