Riyadh – Saudi Arabia and Lebanon have turned a new page of promising relations following the latest talks held by President Michel Aoun with the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, King Salman bin Abdulaziz, in Riyadh on Tuesday.
In an interview with Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper, Aoun said that discussions in Riyadh have evinced his expectations of the Kingdom’s keenness on Lebanon’s security, stability and prosperity.
He also announced that Saudis would return to Lebanon, noting that the outcome of his visit would be translated through ministerial channels.
“I found out that long-standing relations can overcome any passing cloud”, Aoun said, when asked to describe his meeting with King Salman.
“We have had a sincere and agreeable discussion,” he added, noting that the Saudi king has stressed his keenness on Lebanon’s stability and tolerance between the different confessions.
Aoun said that Lebanon has always sought what is best for Saudi Arabia.
“In some circumstances, we had to remain silent because of what was happening in some Arab States,” the Lebanese president said, adding: “I believe that as of this visit, everything came back to its normal state.”
The meeting with King Salman “has confirmed my expectations of Saudi Arabia’s keenness on Lebanon’s stability, security, prosperity and unity of its confessions”, Aoun said.
Asked about how the outcome of his visit would be translated and whether Saudi tourists would come back to Lebanon, the president said that a decision has been taken regarding the return of Saudi tourists to the country, adding that bilateral cooperation would be translated through ministerial channels.
Aoun highlighted both officials’ determination to normalize relations, noting that there were no obstacles that would prevent them from reach such goal.
On whether Lebanon’s relations with Iran would remain an obstacle to the ties with the Arab world, the president said: “We have normal relations with Iran; there’s a diplomatic representation. There is nothing in these ties that would prevent us from having normal relations with the Arab world.”
Aoun said that Iran’s assistance to Hezbollah cannot be ignored, and falls within the framework of a strategy to support the resistance.
“This assistance has turned into what it is described as war on terrorism in Syria, and this can stretch over an undetermined period,” Aoun noted.
The president stressed, however, that the Lebanese government exercises its sole authority over its entire territories.
“Within the Lebanese territories, there is a government that is fully responsible for the security of its people and of maintaining its borders,” he said.
“Outside the Lebanese borders, the crisis exceeds the ability of Lebanon and even surpasses the ability of many regional and international players”, he added.
Aoun said that the issue of Saudi military aid to Lebanon was being discussed between both countries’ ministers of defense.
Asked about the role that Lebanon can assume in the Arab world, Aoun said: “We want to restore Lebanon’s image as a role model of tolerance and coexistence.”
He added that political pluralism was a model of democracy and entails the respect of all populations and religions. The president noted that previous disagreements in Lebanon were based on political considerations and have never been based on confessional ones.
On whether Lebanon can have a mediating role in the region, Aoun approved, saying that such mediation required the consent of the different concerned parties.
“If there is a will, there is a way,” he said, adding that Lebanon was ready to assume any mediating role should it receive the consent of the concerned parties.
When asked to evaluate the beginning of his tenure, Aoun stressed the rooted commitment to the agreed work mechanism, adding that fighting corruption in ministries and state institutions was one of his first priorities.
“Corruption is present in ministries, and each minister is responsible for fighting corruption,” he said.
On the efforts to draft a new electoral law, Aoun said that agreement between the different factions was the only way to adopt a new parliamentary electoral law.
In this regard, the Lebanese president said that any such agreement should be based on the Taif Accord, which calls for a law that guarantees the respect of the principles of coexistence and provides fair representation to the different Lebanese factions.
Asked whether he was likely to conduct a state visit to Syria, Aoun said that a visit to Damascus was not considered at the current time, but problems emerging from the Syrian crisis, including the refugee case, might necessitate such visit.
Commenting on his ties with Speaker Nabih Berri, Aoun said that relations with him were back to normal.
He added, laughing: “What is important is that he gets used to loving me; I voted for him several times for the speakership but he didn’t vote for me! I don’t know the reason behind this?!”
When asked if he would consider visiting Russia, which has become a main player in the region, Aoun said he would accept an invitation to visit Moscow, as Lebanon is seeking “to build friendships with everyone.”