BEIRUT: President Michel Aoun is set to leave for Kuwait Tuesday on a two-day official visit for talks with senior officials in a bid to strengthen bilateral relations and discuss regional and international developments, official sources said Monday. Aoun’s visit to Kuwait, originally scheduled for last November, was postponed due to Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s shock resignation, now rescinded, announced on Nov. 4 from Riyadh, just one day before the planned trip.
To be accompanied by Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil, Telecoms Minister Jamal Jarrah, Minister of State for Administrative Development Inaya Ezzeddine and Minister of State for Human Rights Affairs Ayman Choucair, Aoun is set to meet with Kuwaiti Emir Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah Tuesday, the sources said. General Security chief Maj. Gen. Abbas Ibrahim and the head of the Council for Development and Reconstruction, Nabil Jisr, will also join the delegation.
Aoun will assure the Kuwaiti emir that the security situation in Lebanon is stable and there are no risks that prevent Kuwaiti citizens from visiting the country, the source said.
Citing security concerns, Saudi Arabia and other Arab Gulf states have in past years advised their citizens against traveling to Lebanon.
Ibrahim will discuss security cooperation with Kuwaiti officials and seek to resolve problems that arose from accusations regarding several Lebanese nationals being involved in the so-called Abdali terror cell, the sources said. The comments were in reference to an allegedly Hezbollah-linked terror cell that included several individuals accused of amassing weapons at the behest of Iran and Hezbollah to carry out an attack in Kuwait.
In the summer of 2015, Kuwaiti security service officers raided farmhouses in Abdali, near the Iraqi border, uncovering the largest illegal weapons cache to have been discovered in Kuwait’s history.
The Kuwaiti Foreign Ministry sent a letter to its Lebanese counterpart, requesting that the government act in accordance with the Kuwaiti judiciary’s rulings regarding the alleged Hezbollah-linked cell.
The Kuwaiti statement called on the Lebanese state to take responsibility regarding Hezbollah as the party is an official actor in the government. Prime Minister Saad Hariri visited Kuwait in August 2017, with the issue being high on the agenda for his short trip.
At the economic level, Aoun and the accompanying delegation will discuss Kuwait’s continued support for Lebanon, joint cooperation and the Kuwait Development Fund’s role in financing projects in Lebanon, the sources said.
They added that Aoun’s talks will deal with the appointment of a new Lebanese ambassador to Kuwait.
The talks will also touch on inter-Arab relations, preparations for an Arab summit set to be held in Riyadh in March, the issue of terrorism, the Syrian refugee crisis and Kuwait’s support for Lebanon at international donor conferences to be held in Rome for the Lebanese Army, and Paris to shore up the Lebanese economy, the sources said.
During his stay, Aoun is expected to meet and address Lebanese expatriates living in the Gulf state.
On the eve of his visit, Aoun praised Lebanon’s historical ties with the Gulf emirate and sought to reassure potential Kuwaiti and Arab tourists about the Lebanon’s security.
“The security of tourists is interlinked with Lebanon’s security. There is no need to fear because security is under control and Arab brothers will find that the nature of Lebanon and the Lebanese lifestyle is still the same, bolstered by the security agencies, which are on full alert to prevent any attempt to target stability,” Aoun said in an interview with the official Kuwaiti News Agency, KUNA.
“The prevailing situation in Lebanon and stability are a practical testimony that stability is a red line that cannot be crossed, with the Lebanese will and the determination of the Lebanese Army and security forces, which are doing their best,” he said. “Lebanon is now considered to be a stable security oasis.”
Aoun said the relationship between Lebanon and Kuwait is “strong, steady and historical, and our goal is to always reaffirm the bilateral relationship in all sectors.”
“The message I will carry to Kuwait will not differ from the one I carried to [other] countries I have visited since I was elected president,” he said. Aoun has made official visits to Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Egypt and Jordan since his election on Oct. 31, 2016.
Aoun said the world had realized that it was desirable to distance Lebanon from the fires raging around it. “The Lebanese people also realized that the difficulties knocking on their doors were not passing difficulties and might be the most dangerous in Lebanon’s contemporary history,” he said.
Turning to the Syrian refugee crisis, Aoun said it was a heavy responsibility for Lebanon due to its small geographical area, which “doesn’t permit it to host this huge number – which exceeds 1,820,000 refugees since the start of the war in Syria – in addition to the critical economic situation and security challenges.”
Official UNHCR figures put the number of Syrian refugees registered in Lebanon at just under 1 million.