France signs $3B deal with Saudi to arm Lebanon

AP News
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Posted: Nov 04, 2014 9:51 AM

BEIRUT (AP) — France and Saudi Arabia signed an agreement on Tuesday for Paris to provide the Lebanese army with $3 billion worth of weapons paid for by Riyadh, the French foreign minister said.

The deal, first announced in December, aims to boost Lebanon's military as it struggles to contain a rising tide of violence linked to the civil war in neighboring Syria. There were no immediate details on what weapons systems would likely be delivered under the agreement, or when Lebanon would receive them.

"I welcome the signing of the contract to assist the Lebanese army," French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said in a statement. "This agreement, financed by a Saudi donation, will strengthen the Lebanese army, which is the guarantor of the unity and stability of Lebanon."

He added that it will also help Lebanon's military "fulfill its mission to defend territory and in the fight against terrorism during a time at which Lebanon is threatened."

There was no immediate comment from Saudi Arabia or Lebanon. But the Lebanese military said Monday that army commander Gen. Jean Kahwaji was traveling to the kingdom for the signing ceremony.

Lebanon announced the surprise $3 billion grant from Saudi Arabia in December. Since then, Riyadh's regional rival, Iran, has also said it is ready to provide aid to the Lebanese army. Many Lebanese view these offers as part of a competition for influence over their tiny country, which is riven by sectarian fissures.

The Lebanese army is generally seen as a unifying force in Lebanon, and draws its ranks from all of the country's sects. But it has struggled to contain the escalating violence here since the outbreak of the Syrian conflict. The military is also widely considered much weaker than the Shiite Hezbollah militant group, which is armed and funded by regional Shiite powerhouse Iran.