Lebanon PM Mikati agrees on road map to end diplomatic row with Saudi Arabia

Four Gulf states pulled their ambassadors from Beirut amid diplomatic rift

Lebanon’s prime minister said he has agreed to a road map with the country’s president to rebuild links with the Gulf after a diplomatic rift that began last week.

In his first comments since Saudi Arabia and four other countries announced they were withdrawing their ambassadors from Beirut, Mr Mikati called on the man responsible for the comments that sparked the dispute, Lebanese Information Minister George Kordahi, to “take the right decision and prioritise the national interest”.

Mr Mikati stopped short of asking him to stand down and no details of the road map were provided.

“I'm relying on his sense of patriotic duty for the interests of the Lebanese both here and abroad, and to not to cause deal blow to the government,” he said.

"Decisive meetings" were planned to address the issue, the prime minister said.

He insisted that his government wanted good relationships with Saudi Arabia and other Arab governments.

Mr Mikati was speaking for the first time since the spat erupted, after a Thursday morning meeting with President Michel Aoun having returned from the Cop 26 climate summit in Glasgow.

Saudi Arabia recalled its ambassador from Beirut after comments by Lebanese Information Minister George Kordahi. Riyadh also banned all Lebanese imports to the kingdom. The UAE, Bahrain, Kuwait and Yemen also withdrew their diplomats in a significant increase of pressure on the new administration of prime minister Najib Mikati.

The crisis was further inflamed when a leaked audio recording of Lebanon's Foreign Minister Abdallah Bou Habib bluntly expressing his government's powerlessness to push back against Hezbollah surfaced.

“If we sack Kordahi, what will we get from the kingdom? Nothing … they’ll ask for more,” Mr Bou Habib is heard saying in the recording.

On Sunday, Mr Kordahi said resigning was “out of the question”, despite calls for him to stand down from across the political spectrum. He doubled down on the refusal in an interview with local media shortly after Mr Mikati's comments — claiming the comments reflected an opinion made before he was appointed a minister and that they did not reflect the position of the government.

Saudi Arabia's Foreign Minister Faisal bin Farhan said that Riyadh's move was more than a knee-jerk response to Mr Kordahi's comments, claiming the move was a response to Hezbollah’s dominance of the Lebanese political system.

“We have come to the conclusion that dealing with Lebanon and its current government is not productive and not helpful,” he told CNBC.

The Gulf represents the Lebanon's number one export market and a similar ban on the import of fresh fruits and vegetables was announced by Riyadh this year, in response to repeated seizures of smuggled narcotics. That ban crippled one of the few productive export industries in Lebanon's otherwise ailing economy.

Updated: November 4th 2021, 3:45 PM
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