U.S. raised concerns with Saudis about halting aid to Lebanese army

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States said on Tuesday it had raised concerns with Saudi Arabia about the kingdom’s cutting off aid to the Lebanese army, adding that international assistance to Lebanon is essential to curbing the influence of Iranian-backed Hezbollah.

Saudi Arabia said last month it had suspended a $3 billion aid package for the Lebanese army in what an official called a response to Beirut’s failure to condemn January attacks on Saudi diplomatic missions in Iran.

“We have raised our concerns about the reports of aid cutoff with the Saudi authorities,” State Department spokesman John Kirby said in a news briefing. “I am not going to talk about the details.”

Hezbollah, a Shi’ite Muslim paramilitary organization that is also the strongest political force in Lebanon, is listed as a terrorist group by the United States.

Hezbollah forces fight in the Syrian civil war alongside government troops against Sunni opposition groups, which are supported by Saudi Arabia and some other Sunni Muslim countries in the region.

“Assistance to the Lebanese armed forces and to other legitimate state institutions is essential to help diminish the role of Hezbollah and its foreign patrons,” Kirby said.

U.S. aid to Lebanese armed forces will continue, he said.

“We don’t want to leave the field open to Hezbollah or its patrons,” Kirby said.

Reporting by Washington Newsroom; Editing by Steve Orlofsky