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Lebanese President Aoun arrives in Kingdom on maiden tour to cement ties with the Gulf

Lebanese President Michel Aoun with Riyadh Gov. Prince Faisal bin Bandar on his arrival in Riyadh on Monday. (SPA)
RIYADH : Lebanese President Michel Aoun, who arrived here Monday night on a two-day visit, met King Salman and senior members of the Cabinet to revive cooperation between the two countries today.
Aoun, who was accompanied by a large ministerial delegation on his first foreign trip, came to Riyadh at the invitation of the king.
He will hold talks with senior leaders and is expected to attend a meeting with Saudi and Lebanese businessmen on Tuesday before heading to Qatar for a two-day visit.
The high-profile visit is widely seen as a significant trip to bolster bilateral cooperation including military and tourism cooperation, marking a new era in Saudi-Lebanese ties and further enhancing cooperation between Lebanon and other Gulf countries.
Majed Abdullah Al-Hedayan, legal affairs in charge at the Riyadh Chamber of Commerce and Industry (RCCI), told Arab News, “The Lebanese president’s first foreign visit to the Kingdom has important implications and sends very strong domestic and regional messages.”
He said the visit comes as part of an attempt to take the Lebanese presidency out of the international and regional conflicts and with concerns for the larger interests of Lebanon’s better economic relationship with the Gulf and Arab countries.
The visit also aims to strengthen the relationship between the Kingdom and Lebanon politically and economically, he added.
Adnan Kassar, former Lebanese minister and current chairman of General Union of Chambers of Commerce, Industry and Agriculture for Arab Countries, told Asharq Al-Awsat, a sister publication of Arab News, that Saudi Arabia and other GCC countries are “the backbone of the Lebanese economy” and pinned hopes about the significant visit to the Kingdom on the economic and political levels. He said he hoped that this visit turns the page over the strained relations between Lebanon and the GCC in the past year.
“It is the first foreign visit of the president since his election, heading a high-ranking Lebanese delegation and the significance of the visit in this timing is important as it represents a transformation in the historic relations between the Kingdom and Lebanon,” he said.
Earlier, the increased influence of Iran-backed Hezbollah in the official affairs of Lebanon had apparently undermined Saudi-Lebanese ties.
The Kingdom stopped funding a program to rearm Lebanon’s military last February because of hostile Lebanese positions due to Hezbollah’s stranglehold on the state.
Under the Saudi-funded “Donas” program, France was to provide military equipment to Lebanon to ensure stability in the divided country. The program was to ship vehicles, helicopters, drones, cannons and other equipment.
The Kingdom also warned its citizens against travel to Lebanon last February for safety reasons.

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