Lebanese President Pledges Cooperation with Saudi Arabia

Yahoo News reports that Aoun arrived in the Saudi capital of Riyadh with a delegation of ministers on Monday night. This is his first trip to the country since his November election ended the two-year deadlock between Iran- and Saudi-backed blocs in the Lebanese parliament.

Aoun said during an interview with Saudi state news channel Al-Ekhbaria, that his ministers of foreign affairs, education, finance and information would meet with their counterparts “to find some fields of cooperation.”

Aoun and King Salman held talks over lunch on Tuesday, but the official Saudi Press Agency gave no details of their content.

A Maronite Christian former army chief, Aoun clinched the presidency with Saudi ally Saad Hariri’s surprising support. Hariri is a leading Sunni figure, who in return was named prime minister.

After concerns about the role Hezbollah played in the Lebanese government, analysts say Saudi Arabia is hoping for a more stable Lebanon.

The Iranian backed Shiite militant group has fighters supporting forces of President Bashar al-Assad in Syria.  Saudi Arabia, Iran’s regional rival, backed rebels opposed to Assad.

Last March Riyadh declared Hezbollah a “terrorist organization” and urged its citizens to leave Lebanon.  In February, a $3 billion program of military aid to Lebanon was halted to protest what it called “the stranglehold of Hezbollah on the state”, which would have provided vehicles, helicopters, drones, cannons and other military equipment from France. Its aim was to stabilize a Lebanon weakened by internal divisions and threatened by jihadists.

When Ekhbaria asked about the agreement, Aoun said, “Of course we will discuss all the possible issues.”

The six-year civil war in Syria has been a major divisive issue in Lebanese politics, and there are more than one million Syrian refugees in the country.

Also in the interview, Aoun said that Lebanon’s partners “have agreed to build Lebanon, regardless of the results in the other countries, because building Lebanon is for all, and secondly, security and stability is for all.”  He stated that his country’s internal political situation has improved, and expressed confidence that “balance” can be maintained. “The state must realize, and maintain, security and stability for individuals and groups even if there are different political visions regarding neighboring and regional countries,” he said.