French defence minister in Beirut, backs Lebanese army
BEIRUT - French Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian pledged support for Lebanon's military on Monday during meetings with the country's president and his Lebanese counterpart.
After talks with Lebanon's Defence Minister Yaacub Sarraf, Le Drian emphasised France's committment to a "well-organised and robust Lebanese armed forces".
During his meeting with President Michel Aoun, a former army chef, he said France would continue to provide assistance to the Lebanese army, according to a readout provided by Aoun's office.
But there were no specifics on the reactivation of a frozen French military aid package, funded by Saudi Arabia, for the Lebanese army.
In January, French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said he was confident the $3-billion aid package would be restored after Riyadh halted it last year.
Saudi Arabia said it had halted the aid to protest the power of Shiite militant group Hezbollah over the Lebanese state.
But there have been hopes the aid might be restored, with Aoun, an ally of Hezbollah, visiting Riyadh in January and agreeing to new talks on the issue.
Aoun's office said he had thanked Le Drian on Monday for "the support provided by France to Lebanon in all fields, especially in the military field".
Aoun expressed hope for "the continuation of this support to enable the army to carry out the national responsibilities on its shoulders, particularly in the areas of security and stability in the country, and the fight against terrorism".
Le Drian is expected to meet Prime Minister Saad Hariri later on Monday.
His trip will also include a visit to French members of the UN peacekeeping force UNIFIL in southern Lebanon.