PARIS: France and Saudi Arabia are close to signing a $3bn arms deal for Lebanon, the Elysee Palace said yesterday following talks between President Francois Hollande and the Saudi crown prince.
“It will not be signed Monday but it is being finalised,” an aide to the president said. The deal is for military equipment and arms to be supplied to Lebanon’s army.
Hollande told an official dinner at the Elysee Palace attended by Prince Salman bin Abdul Aziz, who is also the Saudi deputy prime minister and defence minister, that Lebanon was a “great but vulnerable country” which “needs security”.
“We have come together, Saudi Arabia and France, to help Lebanon on the condition that it also helps itself, for its own security,” Hollande added, without commenting directly on the joint contract.
The deal comes as Beirut faces the threat of jihadists on its border with Syria. More than a million refugees have fled the war in Syria by escaping to Lebanon, according to figures from the United Nations.
Hollande added that France and Saudi Arabia have a “shared priority of peace and security in the Middle East”. Salman is due to hold talks with French Prime Minister Manuel Valls.
He is also due to meet Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius tiday for talks over the situation in Iraq and Syria, where jihadists have seized swathes of territory and are terrorising Christians and other minorities.
Last week Hollande rejected any cooperation with Syrian President Bashar Al Assad whom he accused of being a “de-facto ally” of Islamic State militants, after the regime said it was willing to work with the international community to tackle the jihadists.
And in comments carried on national TV at the weekend, The Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Al Saud of Saudi Arabia warned the West would be the next target of the jihadists sweeping through Syria and Iraq, unless there is “rapid” action.