In Brief | Nation & World, December 30, 2013


Saudi Arabia to give Lebanon $3B to support the army and buy French weapons

BEIRUT — Saudi Arabia has pledged $3 billion to Lebanon to help strengthen the country’s armed forces and purchase weapons from France, Lebanon’s president said Sunday, calling it the biggest grant ever for the nation’s military.

Michel Sleiman, who made the surprise announcement in a televised national address, did not provide any further details. The Lebanese army has struggled to contain a rising tide of violence linked to the civil war in neighboring Syria, a conflict that has inflamed sectarian tensions in Lebanon and threatened the country’s stability.

“The Saudi king decided to give a generous, well-appreciated grant to Lebanon amounting to $3 billion for the Lebanese army, which will allow it to buy new and modern weapons,” Sleiman said. “The king pointed out that the weapons will be bought from France quickly, considering the historical relations that tie it to Lebanon and the military cooperation between the two countries.”

Sleiman said he hoped Paris would quickly meet the initiative, and help the Lebanese army with arms, training and maintenance.

French President Francois Hollande, who was in Riyadh Sunday for talks with Saudi King Abdullah, said that France would help if requested to do so.

Among Cuban exiles, an old holiday toast to ‘Next year in Cuba’ goes steadily silent

MIAMI — In their first years of exile from Cuba in the 1960s, Gustavo Pérez Firmat’s family uttered the toast as a wish they anxiously waited to fulfill.

Pérez Firmat’s parents and grandparents would proclaim “Next year in Cuba” as they lifted glasses of scotch at Christmas and New Year’s Eve.

The words were uttered by thousands of Cubans who fled after Fidel Castro’s 1959 revolution and settled in Miami and other cities around the world. In those days, they believed it was only a matter of time before the revolution would blow over and they could all return to their island home.

More than five decades have now passed. Pérez Firmat’s parents are dead. He no longer makes the toast his father recited hopefully until his death in 2002.

“It would be too painful to do it today,” said Pérez Firmat, an author and professor at Columbia University.

Feeling snubbed by US, Saudis strengthen ties elsewhere, find alignment with France

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — Increasingly vocal in its frustration over U.S. policies in the Mideast, Saudi Arabia is strengthening ties elsewhere, seeking out an alignment that will bolster its position after it was pushed to the sidelines this year.

It may find a solution in France, whose president is ending the year with 24 hours of high-level meetings with the Saudi leadership in a visit intended to showcase commercial and diplomatic strength.

With an entourage of French executives from the lucrative defense and energy sectors, President Francois Hollande arrived Sunday in Riyadh for a flurry of accords and contracts that have been in the works for months. The two countries also find themselves unexpectedly aligned in resistance, if not outright opposition, to U.S. policy on Syria’s civil war and Iran’s nuclear program.

Hollande highlighted both aspects of the relationship during the visit, underscoring for reporters the number of diplomatic issues that the two countries agree on and noting that trade between the two had doubled in the past 10 years to 8 billion euros ($11 billion) in 2013.

The Saudi ambassador to Britain, Prince Mohammed bin Nawaf bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, recently described the policies of some partners toward Iran and Syria as a “dangerous gamble,” while calling for the kingdom to be more assertive internationally after decades of operating in diplomatic shadows.

By wire sources