President Michel Suleiman on Sunday announced that Saudi Arabia has decided to donate three billion dollars with the aim of purchasing French weapons for the Lebanese army as soon as possible.
After canceling a much-anticipated press conference previously scheduled for Sunday evening, Suleiman appeared in a televised address to declare that he managed through his talks with Saudi King Abdullah to secure “extraordinary support” for the army.
“Enhancing the army's capabilities is a unifying national and popular demand and a source of pride and it is a dream that I always had during my 41 years of military service, and it is the dream of every Lebanese since independence to confront the Israeli threat, protect democracy, face terrorism and put an end to the proliferation of arms,” said the president.
“This support will contribute to confronting terrorism and helping UNIFIL (United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon) implement (U.N. Security Council) Resolution 1701,” Suleiman noted.
“After decades of futile efforts, I managed through my talks with the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques (King Abdullah) to provide extraordinary support,” he said.
He revealed that the monarch has decided to donate three billion dollars to the Lebanese army, “which will allow it to obtain modern weapons.”
Suleiman hoped the French government “will back this initiative and support the army.”
“The king noted that the weapons will be purchased from France as soon as possible,” Suleiman said.
He described the move as “the biggest support in Lebanon's history,” pointing out that it is “sufficient to enable the army to perform its missions.”
Suleiman revealed that another 1.6 billion dollars might be offered during an international meeting in Italy in 2014.
“The initiative is an honest reflection of the kingdom's efforts to preserve Lebanon,” Suleiman said.
“The International Support Group issued recommendations that were endorsed by the U.N. Security Council and they aim to support Lebanon's stability and the ongoing efforts to resolve the refugee crisis, and these recommendations will be followed up and implemented,” he noted.
But the Lebanese state “cannot implement any of these policies without a real political will and without follow-up, which means without active constitutional institutions, specifically without a brave judicial authority and a capable and strong army,” Suleiman explained.
Separately, the president stressed that he never discussed with Saudi Arabia the issue of the stalled cabinet formation process or the extension of his term as president.
“I have always sought to serve Lebanon and I never discussed during my foreign visits the issue of the cabinet formation process or the extension of my presidential term and no one has raised this issue with me at all,” Suleiman underlined.
Addressing the Lebanese, the president called on them to “close ranks and show solidarity with the legitimate institutions and with the army which is the guarantor of unity and stability,” saluting the “martyrs, officers and soldiers” of the military institution.
Suleiman's announcement came as French President Francois Hollande arrived in Saudi Arabia for talks with King Abdullah.
During a press conference, Hollande announced that Paris "will respond positively to any Lebanese request," in response to a question about the Saudi initiative to arm the Lebanese army with French weapons.
"We have a common stance with Riyadh over the issue of Lebanon's unity and independence," said Hollande.
"We are interested in having a stable Lebanon and we will respond positively to any Lebanese request," he stressed.
The French president will meet former Prime Minister Saad Hariri and Syrian opposition leader Ahmed Jarba in Saudi Arabia, said a member of his entourage.
The meeting with Hariri comes amid heightening tensions in Lebanon after the assassination of his close aide, former Finance Minister Mohammed Shatah, in a car bombing on Friday in Beirut.
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