French FM 'confident' Saudi military aid to Lebanon will be restored
RIYADH - French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said Tuesday he was confident that a Saudi-funded military aid package for Lebanon would be restored.
On a visit to Riyadh where he is to meet senior Saudi officials, Ayrault said the package was needed to help bring stability to Lebanon.
"It's a country that should be helped," Ayrault told reporters. "And I know that the Lebanese army is a factor for unity. So it's true that aid can help stabilise things."
The $3 billion aid package is to see Riyadh fund the transfer of vehicles, helicopters, drones, cannons and other military equipment from France to the Lebanese army.
It is seen as a crucial show of support for Lebanon's military and will provide a boost to French efforts to increase arms sales in the Middle East.
Saudi Arabia halted the programme last year in protest at what it said was "the stranglehold of Hezbollah on the state" in Lebanon.
Asked if the package would be restored, Ayrault said things were moving in "a good direction. So I am confident."
The potential turnaround comes after a visit to Riyadh earlier this month by Lebanese President Michel Aoun, who was elected in a November vote that ended a two-year deadlock between Iran- and Saudi-backed blocs in the Lebanese parliament.
A member of Aoun's delegation said during the visit that Riyadh and Beirut had agreed to hold talks on how to move forward with the package.
Ayrault arrived in Riyadh late Monday to reaffirm the "strategic partnership" between France and Saudi Arabia.
Ayrault, on his first ministerial visit to the kingdom, "will discuss the main regional issues, particularly the situations in Yemen, Iraq, Libya and Syria," the French foreign ministry said in a statement.
He spoke briefly to reporters during a visit to the $22.5 billion Riyadh Metro rapid transit project.
French company Alstom is a member of one consortium on the project, building part of the track network as well as rail cars.