BEIRUT (AP) – Lebanon’s Information Minister is expected to announce his resignation on Friday, in a bid to ease an unprecedented diplomatic crisis with Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries.
Local media reported that Minister George Kordahi intended to step down, weeks after television comments he had made criticizing Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen sparked the crisis.
In response, Saudi Arabia recalled its ambassador and banned all Lebanese imports, affecting hundreds of businesses and cutting off hundreds of millions of foreign exchange in Lebanon, which is already facing a major economic crisis. Kordahi had refused to resign because of comments made before taking office in Cabinet, prolonging the crisis.
Kordahi had said the war in Yemen was futile and called it an aggression by the Saudi-led coalition.
The war in Yemen began with the takeover of Sana’a in 2014 by the Houthi rebels, who control much of the north of the country. The Saudi-led coalition went to war the following year, determined to restore the internationally recognized government and oust the rebels.
Lebanon is sinking deeper and deeper into an economic crisis, the worst in its modern history. The country’s financial crisis, coupled with multiple other crises, has plunged more than three-quarters of the country’s 6 million people, including one million Syrian refugees, into poverty.
The stalemate has crippled the government, which has been unable to meet since October 12 due to reports that ministers allied with Hezbollah would step down if Kordahi left.
The government is also embroiled in yet another crisis sparked when the Iranian-backed Lebanese Hezbollah group protested the state’s ongoing investigation into the Beirut port explosion last year.
Hezbollah criticized Tarek Bitar, the investigating judge, saying his investigation was politicized and called on the government to ensure he is fired. Local media reported that there had been mediations to trade Bitar’s withdrawal from the investigation with Kordahi’s resignation.
The Saudi measures have particularly worried the many Lebanese who work in the Gulf countries, and have exacerbated the country’s economic difficulties. It is not clear whether Kordahi’s resignation on Friday would appease Saudi Arabia enough to reverse its rulings and prevent further escalation, or whether it would open the door to resuming Cabinet meetings.
Kordahi told local TV station MTV on Friday that his resignation was aimed at “opening the door” to alleviating the crisis. âI said from day one that if my resignation helps I’m ready for it,â he said.
At the root of the crisis lies a years-old regional rivalry with Iran and Saudi unrest over the growing influence of Hezbollah. Lebanon was caught in the middle. Its relations with Saudi Arabia, a traditional donor to the small Mediterranean country, have steadily deteriorated in recent years.
Kordahi’s expected resignation later on Friday precedes a visit by French President Emmanuel Macron to Saudi Arabia on Saturday. Macron supports the government of Prime Minister Najib Mikati and has taken the lead in the international community by helping the small country in the Middle East, a former French protectorate.
A senior French presidential official, speaking to reporters earlier this week ahead of Macron’s trip to the Gulf, said the president would discuss strengthening cooperation with Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries. ” to prevent Lebanon from sinking further “. The official spoke on condition of anonymity on Friday, in accordance with policy.
Associated Press editor Barbara Surk in Nice, France contributed reporting.