Lebanon’s foreign minister arrived in Kuwait on Saturday to give answers to a list of policy suggestions made to the country by Gulf states.
Before setting off from Beirut, Foreign Minister Abdallah Bouhabib made it clear that Lebanon would not disarm the Iran-funded Hezbollah group, one of 10 confidence-building measures that have been requested.
Relations between impoverished Lebanon and the wealthy Gulf states are at their lowest levels in decades. A crisis erupted late last year when a Lebanese politician spoke critically of the Saudi-led war against Iran-backed rebels in Yemen.
Following information minister George Kordahi's comments, Saudi Arabia recalled its ambassador from Beirut and halted all Lebanese imports, affecting hundreds of businesses and cutting off hundreds of millions in foreign currency flows to Lebanon. Several Gulf countries also recalled their ambassadors.
Mr Bouhabib will attend a meeting of foreign ministers in Kuwait on Sunday during which he will hand his Kuwaiti equivalent Sheikh Ahmed Nasser Al Mohammed Al Sabah official responses to the Gulf nations’ suggestions. The Kuwaiti foreign minister had delivered them personally to Beirut earlier this month.
“I am not going to hand over Hezbollah’s weapons nor end Hezbollah’s existence. This is out of the question in Lebanon,” Mr Bouhabib said in televised remarks, calling the group a “Lebanese party par excellence” that is active in the government but does not dominate politics in Lebanon.
“We hope to have excellent relations as in the past [with Gulf nations]," Mr Bouhabib said. Lebanon had suggestions for solving problems between the two sides, he said.
The list handed over by Kuwait’s foreign minister and circulated in Lebanese media included implementing US Security Council resolution 1559, which calls for the disarmament of all militias in Lebanon. Major anti-corruption reforms should be implemented and all verbal or real attacks on Gulf nations should cease.
Mr Bouhabib said Lebanon respected international resolutions, but said time was needed.
Mr Kordahi, who made his comments before taking his post, resigned in December, but the move did not lead to improved relations between the two sides.