French President Francois Hollande orders speedy arms delivery To Lebanon

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French President Francois Hollande orders speedy arms delivery To Lebanon
The Daily Star/Dec. 13, 2014

PARIS: French President Francois Hollande has ordered that the delivery of French arms to the Lebanese Army paid for by a $3 billion Saudi grant be accelerated, Prime Minister Tammam Salam said Friday, adding that the needed weapons would soon be transferred.
Salam, speaking after holding talks in Paris with Hollande, also said France was ready to help Lebanon end the political deadlock that has left the country without a president for more than six months.
“Among the most important matters we discussed with France was the security file linked to the generous Saudi gift to supply the Lebanese Army with the arms it needs,” Salam said at a news conference held at his temporary residence in Paris.
“Final touches have been put to the technical part [of the Saudi deal] and what remains is the final approval between Saudi Arabia and France. The arms delivery to Lebanon will happen in a swift manner,” he added.
Salam said Hollande had issued the “necessary instructions to expedite the delivery of these arms, especially since the confrontation with terrorism is still ongoing.”
In separate remarks to reporters, Salam said the Army would receive the weapons very soon.

Salam and other Lebanese leaders have called for bolstering the capabilities of the Army, which is locked in an open battle against ISIS and Nusra Front militants, who are still holding 25 servicemen captured during fierce fighting in the northeastern town of Arsal in August.
The Army also routed Islamist militants in the northern city of Tripoli in October as part of its campaign against terrorist groups. Salam, wrapping up a three-day official visit to Paris to finalize the arms deal, said Lebanon did not provide a safe haven for terrorism, adding that the military and security forces have been able to establish security in the country. “Some had thought in the past that there is a safe haven for terrorism and extremist ideology in Lebanon,” he said. “But the decisive [military] battle that happened on the ground in Tripoli and the north has shown that there is no safe haven for any extremism and that the Lebanese are yearning for legitimacy, the state, security and safety.”

Salam’s meeting with Hollande at the Elysee Palace was attended by Defense Minister Samir Moqbel and Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil. Salam also met with French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian to discuss the arms delivery to the Lebanese Army in the presence of senior Lebanese and French army officers. The Lebanese premier said France was ready to help facilitate the presidential election. “France will not spare any effort to help, whether at the level of the executive branch through President Hollande, or through the legislative branch through parliament and the senate.”

Asked if France was making efforts to break the presidential deadlock following talks held by Jean-François Girault, head of the French Foreign Ministry’s Middle East and North Africa office, with rival Lebanese leaders in Beirut this week, Salam said: “France in particular is following up this file [presidential election] with us and is trying to help us … I have felt a desire from President Hollande and all French officials that this file should be finished and that Lebanon must have a president.”
Salam said he discussed with Hollande a number of issues, including the Syrian refugee crisis in Lebanon and the need to help the country cope with such overwhelming numbers. He also said international assistance to Lebanon has not been enough for the country.Meanwhile, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov met with Maronite Patriarch Beshara Rai and a number of political leaders as part of Moscow’s new bid to relaunch Syrian peace talks. “Developments in Lebanon and the region were discussed in detail and in depth,” Bogdanov told reporters after meeting Rai in Bkirki, seat of the Maronite Church.

From Bkirki, Bogdanov headed to Maarab, northeast of Beirut, for talks with Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea, where the Russian official voiced concerns about the “grave situation in the region as a whole.”
Bogdanov said the meeting touched on the presidential election crisis as well as developments in the region, particularly in Syria. “We exchanged views about all these issues that are beneficial to me,” he said, adding that he would convey Geagea’s views to all the parties he planned to meet in Lebanon. The Russian envoy called on political leaders to engage in a comprehensive dialogue that would ensure Lebanon’s best interest. Following the meeting with Geagea, Bogdanov, who last week held talks with rival Lebanese leaders, traveled north for talks with Marada Movement chief MP Sleiman Frangieh in Bneshaai, in the Zghorta district. Bogdanov said the talks covered the Lebanese presidential election, regional developments and the crisis in Syria.
Later Friday night, Bogdanov met MP Walid Jumblatt at his residence in Clemenceau in the second meeting between the two men within a week. Jumblatt hosted a dinner for the Russian envoy.