BEIRUT: U.S. President Barack Obama said Tuesday his country will give $8.7 million to support the Lebanese Army during a meeting with President Michel Sleiman on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly in New York.
Obama said the financial aid was aimed at helping the military protect its borders against terrorist threats and illicit goods.
Lebanese authorities have repeatedly said the Army was incapable of fully protecting the porous border with Syria.
Damascus complains that the estimated 550-kilometer-long border with its tiny neighbor has become a smuggling route for weapons. U.S. officials have voiced similar concerns.
According to UPI, Obama said the U.S. "strongly supports the role of the Lebanese armed forces in maintaining Lebanon's stability, and today we're announcing an additional $8.7 million that would provide needed equipment in support of the Lebanese armed forces in internal stability and border security missions."
Obama also said all parties in Lebanon should refrain from engaging in the Syrian conflict, adding that the country has full U.S. support in the fight to uphold the country's independence.
The U.S. has been a harsh critic of Hezbollah’s involvement in Syria, arguing that the resistance group’s presence there violated Lebanon’s policy of disassociation.
Commenting on the U.S.-Russia deal that would see Damascus handing over its stockpile of chemical weapons, Obama said: "We are pleased that there may be progress in getting rid of Syria's chemical weapons ... which would be good for Lebanon.”
The meeting which reportedly lasted 15 minutes came after Obama announced $339 million in additional humanitarian aid in response to Syria's crisis, including $74 million for Lebanon to support the refugees.
Obama called on the international community to do more to help.
Sleiman will deliver a speech to the U.N. assembly later Tuesday to lay out Lebanon's political, security and economic needs in an effort to gain support from friendly states.
He will likely stress the need to help the Lebanese Army, which is perceived to be the only nonsectarian institution in the country, as well as maintaining neutrality in the country with respect to the Syrian crisis.
On Wednesday, Sleiman will attend an international conference to support Lebanon cope with the rising number of Syrian refugees.
The meeting will address three main concerns: support for refugees and host communities, helping Lebanon’s economy and financial system and the assisting Lebanese security forces. -With AP