BEIRUT: Saudi Arabia on Wednesday lifted its longstanding warning against Saudis traveling to Lebanon, and released $1 billion in funding pledged to boost the country’s struggling economy.
The announcements followed talks in Beirut on Wednesday between visiting special envoy and Saudi Royal Court adviser Nizar Al-Aloula, Saudi Ambassador Waleed Bukhari, Lebanese President Michel Aoun and Prime Minister Saad Hariri.
“Given that the previous security reasons have ended and based on reassurances from the Lebanese government to Saudi Arabia, Saudi Arabia is lifting its travel warning for its citizens,” Bukhari said.
Signs of warming ties were evident later at an anniversary event to mark the 2005 assassination of Hariri’s father, the former prime minister Rafiq Hariri; the Saudi flag was on prominent display and Aloula was a keynote speaker.
Lebanon last week formed a new coalition government after nine months of wrangling over ministerial posts, and produced a raft of proposed new economic policies to slash the country’s crippling national debt and reduce its budget deficit.
A fall in visitors from Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states has devastated Lebanon’s tourism industry, once a mainstay of an economy that Hariri’s new government has pledged to support with reforms and investment.
Aloula said the purpose of his visit was “to congratulate Lebanon on the formation of the government, which hopefully will be a good sign for the Lebanese and Arab peoples. If Lebanon prospers, we all prosper.
“We were looking forward to the formation of a Lebanese government as much as the Lebanese people. There are over 20 Lebanese-Saudi agreements that will hopefully now come into effect — the mere presence of a government in Beirut allows us to move forward.”
On the timing of his visit, a day after the departure of Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, Aloula said: “The Iranian course is completely different from ours, and there is no competition or conflict.
“We always bet on Lebanese success. Lebanese people have capabilities that allow them to lead the Middle East region. They have everything — heritage, culture and intelligence.”
The Saudi government had previously pledged $1 billion of investments for Lebanese projects at the Cedar Conference in Paris in April 2018, which will now be distributed among the 20 projects to which Aloula referred.
Further meetings between Prime Minister Hariri and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman are expected to take place before any final decisions are made.