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Saudi Arabia and the FPM: no change yet

File - FPM leader Michel Aoun, center, and caretaker Energy Minister Gebran Bassil, receive Saudi Ambassador to Lebanon Ali Awad Asiri in Rabieh, Tuesday, July 2, 2013. (The Daily Star/Charbel Nakhoul, HO)

The meeting between Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to Lebanon and Free Patriotic Movement leader Michel Aoun Thursday was not meant to discuss the latter’s expected visit to the Gulf kingdom but rather to discuss political developments in Lebanon and the region, FPM sources told The Daily Star.

The sources said the policy of openness that Ambassador Ali Awad Assiri has been demonstrating toward the FPM can only be perceived positively by the FPM leader and the group. They added that the latest meeting was positive, as with earlier discussions, but did not touch on “practical issues” such as Aoun’s potential visit to Riyadh.

“Apparently, at this point, maintaining contacts represents everything that is needed,” one source said. “The FPM also realizes that that in light of the difficulties Lebanon and surrounding countries are currently going through, it’s critically important to stay in touch with all the capitals that influence the course of events in Lebanon and the region.”

While ties between the FPM and Saudi Arabia, a major March 14 backer, have been strained over the past years, Assiri met with Aoun in June, a bid to break the ice.

While the sources said they were unaware of the reasons behind Saudi Arabia’s “sudden overture” they added that Aoun’s opposition to the involvement of FPM’s main ally Hezbollah in the war in Syria was one of the reasons. The sources, however, denied that rapprochement between the FPM and Riyadh meant that Aoun has abandoned his “strategic support” for the resistance against Israel in Lebanon.

According to the sources, Aoun and the FPM’s “political experiences and legacy” have shown that dialogue and openness to various political groups in Lebanon was crucial for safeguarding Lebanon and minimizing the effects of the dangerous political climate the country has been experiencing of late.

Baabda MP Alain Aoun, from the FPM, told The Daily Star Thursday’s meeting between Aoun and Assiri was a chance to revive talks that kicked off in June and were temporarily halted as the Saudi ambassador left Lebanon for his vacation.

Aoun said the meeting didn’t discuss “specific issues” such as a visit by Aoun to Saudi Arabia, or the impasse over the formation of a new government. “The discussion was restricted to general topics,” the lawmaker said.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on September 07, 2013, on page 2.

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