Lebanon News

Riyadh, Beirut ‘close Nov. 4 chapter’

Aoun arrives to attend a Cabinet session in Baabda, Thursday, April 12, 2018. (The Daily Star/Mohammad Azakir)

BEIRUT: President Michel Aoun and Prime Minister Saad Hariri will head the Lebanese delegation to Saudi Arabia Saturday afternoon, where the president will give a speech at the Arab League Summit. Official sources told The Daily Star about “drastic changes in Saudi Arabia’s policy toward Beirut after the Nov. 4 chapter was closed and it is now looking to serve Lebanon’s interests and to support it.”

On Nov. 4, Hariri made a shock announcement that he was stepping down a day after arriving in Saudi Arabia. He remained in the kingdom for around two weeks before returning to Lebanon and rescinding his resignation. The episode sparked accusations that Hariri was held in Riyadh against his will and strained Lebanese-Saudi relations, which have since warmed again.

One source said that this was evident during the dinner hosted at the Elysee Palace this week, with French President Emmanuel Macron, Hariri and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman in attendance.

“Aoun’s participation [in the summit] will initiate potential for the 2019 Arab Summit to be hosted by Lebanon. This summit hopes to be a one for Arab reconciliation,” an official source said.

Meanwhile, sources pointed out that Lebanon is closely monitoring what might be included in the final statement of the summit regarding Syria and Iran. These are two items brought forward by the Council of Permanent Delegates, Socioeconomic Council and foreign ministers to the summit, which will be named the “Dhahran Declaration.”

Aoun will stress the importance of Arab unity and Arab support for Lebanon in coping with the Syrian refugee crisis.

“Aoun will also voice Lebanon’s readiness to agree on any decision that is approved by all Arab leaders, and he will request Arab leaders’ support for Lebanon’s stance against Israeli aggressions on land, air and sea [in Lebanese territory],” a source said.

The summit’s agenda will be comprised of 18 articles, including the Palestinian cause and the Arab-Israeli Conflict. Other items on the agenda include opening discussions on activating the Arab initiative for peace, and developments in issues related to Jerusalem, Libya, Yemen and Somalia. The development of the Arab League and the holding of an Arab Cultural Summit will also be discussed.

However, the Iranian occupation of the three Arab islands: Greater Tunb, Lesser Tunb and Abu Musa, and its interference in the internal affairs of the Arab countries and the developments of the Syrian crisis, has not been included in the agenda as it stands.

Aoun will hold meetings with a number of Arab leaders during the trip. However, the president will not attend a joint military exercise by members of the Coalition Alliance against Terrorism, as he will return to Beirut as soon as the summit’s work is completed.

Aoun will leave the following day, Monday, and head to Qatar. He received an official invitation last month from the Emir of the Gulf state, Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani, to visit Qatar and attend the grand opening of the Qatar National Library in Doha.

Aoun is expected to extend a reciprocal invitation to Al-Thani to attend the opening of the National Library in Beirut this June.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on April 13, 2018, on page 2.

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