BEIRUT: Saudi Arabia has granted the Lebanese Army $3 billion in military equipment to be bought from France, President Michel Sleiman said Sunday.
"The kingdom has decided, following ongoing contacts, to offer exceptional and admirable support to the Lebanese Army of $3 billion which would allow [the military] to buy newer and more modern weapons," Sleiman said in a televised speech, describing the grant as the largest in the history of Lebanon and its Army.
"The Saudi grant will allow France to equip the Army, and I hope Paris will swiftly carry out this initiative,” he said.
"After decades of unsuccessful efforts with no tangible results, I was able through contacts with the Saudi King Abdallah to provide the Lebanese Army with this exceptional grant," Sleiman added.
Sleiman also said that the tripartite meetings between him, the Saudi king and French President Francois Hollande will focus on the International Support Group for Lebanon, which was established to support Lebanon’s state institutions in the face of the overwhelming number of Syrian refugees.
“I would like to express my heartfelt gratitude to the Saudi King Abdallah, the custodian of the two mosques, for his generosity and his keenness on a moderate approach in the face of all kinds of extremism,” he said.
Sleiman, who met with the Saudi king earlier this year, also commended Riyadh for its stance toward Lebanon including what he said was the kingdom’s constant support of the country during difficult times.
Sleiman, whose term expires May 25, defended the kingdom against accusations made by Hezbollah that Saudi intelligence was behind the Nov. 19 Iranian Embassy bombing in Beirut.
Hezbollah’s Chief Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah has criticized Saudi Arabia on several occasions, saying Riyadh sought to destroy Lebanon by opposing the formation of a new Cabinet.
In his televised address, Sleiman urged the Lebanese to remain alert and support state institutions particularly the Lebanese Army. He also said that the national defense strategy he proposed last year and the Baabda Declaration cannot be implemented without a political will and the lack of “an independent and courageous judiciary.”
He also called for the formation of a new Cabinet “in order to preserve the spirit of the national covenant,” denying he ever discussed the extension to his term or the government paralysis with President Barack Obama or any other foreign official.