BEIRUT: French Chief of Defense Staff Adm. Edouard Guillaud will begin a visit to Lebanon Monday, just weeks after Saudi Arabia pledged $3 billion to buy arms for the Lebanese Army from France.
Guillaud is expected to discuss details of the military aid with Lebanese Army commander Gen. Jean Kahwagi and other top officials. He will also go to the south of the country to visit French peacekeepers part of the U.N. Interim Force in Lebanon, to which France is a major contributor.
Late last month, President Michel Sleiman announced that Saudi Arabia would buy arms worth $3 billion from France for the poorly equipped Lebanese Army, in the hope that that the European country would quickly help boost Lebanon’s Army with arms and training.
With modest capabilities, the Lebanese Army has struggled over the past three years to contain tensions across Lebanon, much of which is linked to the civil war in neighboring Syria.
Guillaud will join Emmanuel Bonne, President Francois Holland’s political adviser for North Africa, Middle East and United Nations, who has been in Lebanon since Friday.
Bonne and French Ambassador Patrice Paoli visited Progressive Socialist Party leader MP Walid Jumblatt at his Mukhtara palace in the Chouf Mountains Sunday. The visit, during which the French officials had lunch, lasted for over two hours. Also attending the meeting was caretaker Social Affairs Minister Wael Abu Faour from the PSP.
During his stay in Lebanon, Bonne has met with Speaker Nabih Berri, Prime Minister-designate Tammam Salam, caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati, Kataeb Party leader Amine Gemayel, Maronite Patriarch Beshara Rai and Ammar Musawi, Hezbollah’s official in charge of international relations.
Bonne said during his meetings that he carried a message of support from Hollande to Lebanese institutions, especially with regard to ongoing efforts to form a new government and the preparations for presidential elections. The constitutional period to elect a new president begins on March 25, two months before Sleiman’s term expires.
Salam has been struggling to put together a Cabinet for more than nine months. Positive signs emerged last week that the Cabinet crisis could finally be resolved after former Prime Minister Saad Hariri, the head of the Future parliamentary bloc, said he was ready to share power with Hezbollah in the government.
Bonne reiterated his support for the Lebanese Army, saying it was an old French commitment that would never change.