Lebanon PM will try to mend ties with Saudi Arabia

Cabinet responds to cutting of $4bn in aid over failure to condemn Iran.

Lebanese prime minister Tammam Salam announces that he will lead a ministerial delegation to visit Arab Gulf states, during a press conference at the government House in Beirut on February 22, 2016. Bilal Hussein / AP Photo
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BEIRUT // The Lebanese government on Monday said it was necessary to fix ties with Saudi Arabia after Riyadh last week suspended US$3 billion (Dh11bn) aid package to the Lebanese army, and tasked prime minister Tammam Salam with making contacts to that end.

Saudi Arabia suspended the aid in response to Beirut’s failure to condemn attacks on Saudi diplomatic missions in Iran. The Lebanese national unity government groups both allies and enemies of Saudi Arabia, including the Iranian-backed Shiite group Hizbollah.

Mr Salam, speaking in a televised news conference, said the cabinet statement had been passed unanimously. In response to a question on the attacks last month, he said “we strongly condemn” the attack on the Saudi embassy.

“The cabinet deems it necessary to fix relations between Lebanon and its brothers, and to remove any flaws that may have emerged in recent times,” the cabinet said.

It said Mr Salam’s contacts should “pave the way for a Gulf tour ... with this aim”.

The statement said Lebanon would not forget Saudi Arabia’s sponsorship of the peace agreement that ended Lebanon’s 1975-90 civil war, its role in rebuilding the country, and its support for Lebanon’s “financial, economic, military and security institutions”.

“Likewise it will not forget that the kingdom, and the rest of the Gulf Arab states ... embraced and continue to [embrace] hundreds of thousands of Lebanese of all sects.”

The Gulf is a crucial source of employment for Lebanese.

Former Lebanese prime minister Saad Al Hariri also urged Saudi Arabia not to abandon Lebanon.

In a televised address on Monday, Mr Al Hariri, a Saudi-backed politician and Lebanon’s most influential Sunni leader, called on King Salman “not to forgo Lebanon and to continue to support and embrace it”.

* Reuters