Aoun completes fence-mending trip to Saudi Arabia
London - Lebanese President Michel Aoun, seeking the restoration of billions of dollars in aid, completed a 2-day visit to Saudi Arabia, a trip described as a success by his inner circle.
Aoun was tasked with smoothing ties with Riyadh after a year of deteriorating relations that saw the kingdom cancel $4 billion in military aid and institute a travel ban on its citizens going to Lebanon.
“There have been some ambiguities. I am here today to dissipate them,” Aoun told the Saudi Al Ekhbariya news channel before meeting with Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud.
The two leaders reviewed bilateral relations and the regional and international developments, the official Saudi press agency said. A source close to the Lebanese president told Agence France-Presse that Riyadh had changed the status of the multibillion-dollar military aid.” The blockage is lifted,” the unnamed official said.
Regarding the return of Saudi tourists to Lebanon, once a preferred destination for Gulf travellers, Aoun told the pan-Arab daily Asharq Al-Awsat that a decision had been made and that bilateral cooperation “would be translated through ministerial channels”.
The Saudi government has not made any official statements regarding restoring aid or lifting the travel ban but unnamed Saudi officials told the Associated Press that King Salman promised to review the restoration of aid to the Lebanese Army but did not give a timetable.
There are fears within the Saudi government that weapons purchased from the grant will end up in the hands of Hezbollah, which is supporting opposite sides in the Syrian civil war than those backed by Riyadh.
In February 2016, Saudi Arabia and fellow Gulf Cooperation Council members — the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Qatar and Bahrain — banned their citizens from travelling to Lebanon and asked those living there to leave due to safety concerns.
The cancellation of the military grant and the subsequent travel bans stemmed from the failure of Lebanon to condemn an attack on the kingdom’s diplomatic missions in Iran that took place in early January 2016.
Relations improved late last year with a deal in which Aoun became president under the condition that Future Movement leader Saad Hariri, who is backed by Saudi Arabia, be installed as prime minister.