Lebanon asks Saudi Arabia to reconsider ban on its produce

·2-min read

BEIRUT (Reuters) -Lebanon said on Monday it hoped Saudi Arabia would reconsider a ban on its produce imposed over what Riyadh called a rise in drug smuggling, and tasked its interior minister to coordinate with the kingdom to uncover the culprits and prevent a repeat.

The statement was issued after a meeting on the topic between President Michel Aoun and caretaker Prime Minister Hassan Diab amongst others.

They also asked Lebanon's public prosecutor to pursue investigations on the issue and keep Saudi officials informed of results, a presidency statement said.

Blaming an increase in drug smuggling, Saudi Arabia announced the ban on Friday, a measure that will add to Lebanon's severe economic problems. The fruit and vegetables trade is worth $24 million annually.

Lebanon is in the throes of a deep financial crisis posing the biggest threat to its stability since the 1975-1990 civil war.

Aoun earlier asked Lebanon's security forces to step up operations against the smuggling, while Diab said Lebanon stood ready to fight trafficking networks with Saudi Arabia but that a ban would not prevent it.

"We are confident that Saudi Arabia and all the Gulf countries know well that a ban on Lebanese produce will not stop drug smuggling and (that) cooperation between us will help stop these networks," he said.

There was concern that the ban, which took effect on Sunday, would spread to other Gulf states after the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Bahrain and Oman all issued statements in support of the Saudi decision.

The ban was announced after Saudi customs authorities foiled an attempt to smuggle in more than 5.3 million Captagon pills, a type of amphetamine, hidden in a pomegranate shipment from Lebanon, the kingdom's SPA news agency said last week.

A Lebanese source who attended Monday's meeting at the presidential palace said the shipment was originally from neighbouring Syria and falsely labelled as Lebanese before being dispatched. The source said two people were detained in connection with the drug bust.

(Reporting by Maha El Dahan and Ellen Francis Writing by Maha El DahanEditing by Alison Williams and Mark Heinrich)