Lebanon's Speaker of Parliament Nabih Berri Tuesday sought Egypt’s help in reviving a massive Saudi military aid package to the Lebanese Army, in the latest bid to defuse a diplomatic crisis with Riyadh caused by perceived “hostile” stances linked to Hezbollah and Iran at Arab League and Islamic meetings. Berri made the plea during a meeting in Cairo with Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi who underlined the need for Lebanese leaders to elect a new president at any cost.
The call for Egyptian mediation came a day after Saudi King Salman ended a rare five-day visit to Cairo during which he pledged billions of dollars in investment and aid to Egypt and called for a joint fight against terrorism in the Middle East.
During an hourlong meeting, Berri and Sisi reviewed bilateral relations, developments in the region and threats of terrorism, the National News Agency reported.
Praising Egypt’s pan-Arab positions, Berri asked the Egyptian president to “work to secure military support to the Lebanese Army, including making efforts to revive the Saudi aid to the Army,” the NNA said.
In February, Saudi Arabia said it was halting $4 billion in grants to the Lebanese military and security forces over what Riyadh perceives as “hostile” stances linked to Hezbollah and Iran at Arab League and Islamic conferences.
Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil was largely blamed for the Saudi aid halt, having refused to endorse joint statements at Arab and Islamic meetings in Cairo and Jeddah in January condemning attacks on Saudi diplomatic missions in Iran and accusing Tehran of terrorism.
Lebanon’s relations with Saudi Arabia and other Gulf Cooperation Council states have since been strained. In addition to warning their citizens against travel to Lebanon, the GCC states and the Arab League foreign ministers last month labeled Hezbollah a “terrorist organization.” The GCC, which includes Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Oman and Bahrain, has accused Hezbollah of creating chaos and discord in member states. The GCC states have also decided to expel Lebanese citizens suspected of having links to Hezbollah.
Berri stressed the importance of an inter-Arab dialogue to settle regional conflicts and as well as a rapprochement between Saudi Arabia and Iran, the two regional rivals that are vying for influence in the volatile region.
“A Saudi-Iranian thaw will have positive effects on the region, including Lebanon,” Berri said.
Saudi Arabia and Iran wield great influence in Lebanon, where they back opposing sides. Riyadh backs the March 14 coalition, while Tehran supports the Hezbollah-led March 8 alliance.
For his part, Sisi expressed his support for Lebanon and called for the election of a president at any cost. “Egypt does not want from Lebanon anything other than what the Lebanese want for themselves. We do not differentiate between one Lebanese faction and another,” Sisi told Berri, according to the NNA. “The election of a president is extremely essential.”
Sisi voiced his satisfaction with the national dialogue among rival Lebanese leaders launched by Berri in September, saying it “shields” Lebanon from regional turmoil.
Berri, who chaired the meetings of the Arab Inter-Parliamentary Union’s 23rd session at the Arab League headquarters in Cairo, also met with Coptic Pope Tawadros II. The talks centered on Muslim-Christian coexistence and the menace of terrorism that is threatening everyone, the NNA said.
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