Naharnet

Aoun Begins Riyadh Visit, Says Will Seek to End 'Ambiguities' in Lebanese-Saudi Ties

President Michel Aoun arrived Monday in Saudi Arabia on his first foreign trip since taking office, starting an Arab tour that will also take him to Qatar and Egypt.

Riyadh Governor Prince Faisal bin Bandar bin Abdul Aziz welcome Aoun and the accompanying delegation at the King Khalid International Airport, Lebanon's National News Agency said.

Aoun had received an official invitation to visit the kingdom from Saudi King Salman bin Abdul Aziz.

“The Lebanese-Saudi ties were affected by the events that happened in the Arab countries... and I'm here today to put an end to the ambiguities we witnessed, carrying love and friendship to the Saudi people,” Aoun said in an interview in Riyadh with al-Ekhbariya TV.

Asked about the situations in Lebanon in light of the regional circumstances, the president noted that “the parties in Lebanon have reached consensus on the idea of building Lebanon regardless of the outcome of the developments in the other countries,” stressing that “reconstruction, security and stability would benefit everyone.”

Turning to the issue of terrorism, Aoun said all countries should “cooperate in fighting terrorism.”

“Lebanon is not an isolate island... and we need to cooperate with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and all countries because terrorism is no longer confined to the Middle Eastern countries,” the president added.

“Although Lebanon and Saudi Arabia are not next to each other geographically, the exchange of anti-terror expertise and information is a good and desired thing. And during the visit, we will explore all the issues, including the possibility of offering aid to the Lebanese army,” Aoun went on to say.

He also stressed that “regardless of the outcome of deliberations regarding the electoral law, we will not return to fighting and violence.”

Responding to a question, the president said “there is no need for a new Taef Accord in Lebanon” because the Lebanese “possess the ability to carry out certain amendments should the need arise.”

Aoun is accompanied by a large ministerial delegation comprising the ministers Jebran Bassil (foreign affairs), Marwan Hamadeh (education), Ali Hassan Khalil (finance), Yaaqoub al-Sarraf (defense), Nouhad al-Mashnouq (interior), Pierre Raffoul (presidency affairs), Melhem Riachi (information) and Raed Khoury (economy).

Lebanon's ambassador to the kingdom Abdul Sattar Issa joined the delegation upon its arrival.

Aoun will then head to Doha on Wednesday to meet the invitation of Qatar's emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani.

Prior to departing Beirut, the president had presided over a meeting for the ministerial delegation accompanying him on his tour.

Earlier in the day, Aoun had met with a French parliamentary delegation.

“We are looking forward to a political solution to the Syrian Crisis and to the return of the displaced Syrians to their country,” Aoun told the delegation.

“There are safe areas in Syria at the moment and it is appropriate to launch efforts to return them home,” he added.

Information Minister Riachi has announced that the issue of the suspended Saudi grant to the Lebanese army will be on Aoun's agenda during his visit to Riyadh.

Saudi Arabia halted a $3 billion program of military aid to Lebanon in 2016 to protest what it said was "the stranglehold of Hizbullah on the state."

It also urged its citizens to leave Lebanon and avoid travel to the country.

MP Alain Aoun of the Change and Reform bloc has stressed the keenness of President Aoun and the Free Patriotic Movement on restoring normal ties with the Arab Gulf countries, noting that the president's visit to Riyadh will achieve this goal.

“President Michel Aoun's trip to Saudi Arabia will launch a new chapter in the Lebanese-Saudi relations and will pave the way for a new phase between the two brotherly countries, and subsequently between Lebanon and the rest of the Gulf states,” Aoun told the Kuwaiti al-Anbaa newspaper in remarks published Sunday.

“This visit is important because it will return ties to their normal and historic state, which will happen gradually through ending the Saudi and Gulf boycott of Lebanon and halting all the negative measures against it, after the relations between Beirut and the Gulf states deteriorated in recent years due to the regional conflict,” MP Aoun added.


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