BEIRUT (Reuters) - Conditions to implement a multi-billion dollar contract to supply Saudi-financed French weapons to Lebanon are now favorable after the formation of a new government in Beirut, France’s foreign minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said on Thursday.
Speaking in the Lebanese capital after meeting President Michel Aoun and Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri, Ayrault said it was also more important than ever that the new authorities keep up dialogue with Saudi Arabia and Iran to ensure the country was not dragged into the Syrian conflict.
“The conditions are favorable,” Ayrault told reporters during a visit after the formation of the new government on Sunday. “The sun is shining again on Lebanon.”
Saudi Arabia suspended a $3 billion program to supply the Lebanese army with French-made weapons in February, citing concern about the influence on interim Beirut authorities of the powerful Shi‘ite muslim movement Hezbollah, which is backed by Saudi Arabia’s regional rival Iran.
Financed by Riyadh, the equipment was to be supplied by France to bolster the army in its fight against jihadi groups. Ayrault said he and Aoun would soon travel to Saudi Arabia to discuss the contract and wider ties.
“Everything must be done to keep Lebanon out of the Syria conflict,” Ayrault said. “We want Lebanon to keep dialogue with all its regional neighbors, including Saudi Arabia and Iran.”
In the Syrian conflict, Iran backs the forces of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in his fight with Saudi-backed Sunni muslim rebels.
Lebanon’s President, Michel Aoun, and Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri have formed a new government of 30 ministers drawn from most sides of the country’s political spectrum and from all of its religious sects, the cabinet office said on Sunday.
Reporting by John Irish; Editing by Andrew Callus