Beirut: The Lebanese government cannot afford to resign due to a growing diplomatic crisis with Saudi Arabia and some Gulf states, a member of a group of Lebanese crisis ministers said on Saturday. ‘a nearly three-hour meeting on widening the gap.
âThe country cannot be left without a government,â due to other pressing issues, and would continue to work to resolve the rift, Education Minister Abbas Halabi said after the meeting.
The Lebanese president, meanwhile, said he wanted good relations with Saudi Arabia, seeking to bridge a gap with the kingdom. In a tweet, Michel Aoun said Lebanon wants to have the best relations with the Saudis and strengthen ties through bilateral agreements.
The row over critical comments made by Lebanese Information Minister George Kordahi on the Saudi-led military intervention in Yemen had spurred calls from some senior politicians for Kordahi’s resignation, while others said opposed it.
Saudi Arabia expelled the envoy from Lebanon and banned all Lebanese imports on Friday, and Bahrain and Kuwait followed suit, giving Lebanon’s top diplomats 48 hours to exit.
Kordahi’s resignation would have ripple effects that could threaten Prime Minister Najib Mikati’s coalition government.
But Foreign Minister Abdullah Bou Habib said Mikati’s contacts with officials from a number of states showed opposition to the government’s resignation, formed only last month after a 13-month standoff.
“They said to Mikati, ‘if you think about resigning, get that out of your head,'” he said.
Richard Michaels, deputy chief of the US mission in Lebanon, had joined the crisis meeting in Beirut, a spokesman for the US embassy said, declining to comment further.
Mikati had asked Kordahi on Friday to consider Lebanon’s “national interests”, but did not ask for his resignation.
Kordahi was publicly supported by the Iranian-backed Hezbollah armed group and refused to apologize or resign for the comments, which dealt the worst blow to Saudi-Lebanese relations since Saad al-Hariri’s detention in 2017 in Riyadh.
The minister’s political boss, Suleiman Frangieh of the Hezbollah-allied Marada movement, told a press conference that he had turned down an offer to resign from Kordahi and that he would not name a successor if he did.
Still, a group of former Lebanese prime ministers called for Kordahi’s resignation on Saturday, saying his remarks had dealt a blow to relations with Arab Gulf countries.
Fouad Seniora, Hariri and Tammam Sallam, some of the country’s top Sunni politicians, said in the statement that Kordahi’s comments “undermined Lebanon’s supreme national interest”.
“Remove this minister, who will destroy our relations with the Arab Gulf before it is too late!” Â»Tweeted Walid Joumblatt, leader of the Lebanese Progressive Party.
âFor how long will the stupidity, plots and proxies in Lebanese domestic and foreign policies be exacerbated? he added without developing.
Bahaa, the son of ex-Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Al Hariri, called for the resignation of the Lebanese government, and not just Kordahi, in order to contain the crisis.
“Thank you to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the Gulf countries for welcoming the Lebanese community and for making a distinction between them and the system of quotas and sectarianism which has caused a terrible deterioration in relations between Lebanon and its Arab brothers, âBahaa said on Twitter.
If Kordahi steps down, ministers backed by Hezbollah and his ally Amal could follow suit at a time when the government is already crippled by a dispute over an investigation into the August 2020 explosion that devastated parts of Beirut.
A high-level political source told Reuters that the United States and European countries were in contact with Lebanese officials to prevent the government from falling and there was no immediate indication that a minister would resign.
The dispute comes as Lebanon grapples with a financial crisis called by the World Bank one of the worst in modern history.
Mikati hopes to improve relations with the Gulf Arab states which have been strained for years because of the influence exerted in Beirut by Iranian-backed Hezbollah.
Saudi Arabia had already banned in April all imports of fruits and vegetables from Lebanon, accusing an increase in drug trafficking to which Lebanon had not responded, a ban now extended to all goods.
In Cairo, Arab League secretary general Ahmad Abu Al Gheit said the crisis sparked by Kordahi’s remarks had caused a “big setback” in Lebanon’s relations with the Gulf countries.
He urged the Lebanese president and prime minister to take the “necessary steps” to ease tensions, especially with Saudi Arabia. He did not specify what steps should be taken.
Abu Al Gheit also called on Gulf officials to review measures that could negatively impact Lebanon’s already battered economy. – With contributions from Ramadan Al Sherbini, correspondent