Lebanon PM distances government from minister's remarks on Yemen conflict

Information Minister George Kordahi's statements 'do not express' official position says Najib Mikati

Lebanon's Information Minister George Kordahi claimed Houthi rebels in Yemen are acting in self-defence.  Reuters
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Lebanon's Prime Minister Najib Mikati has condemned comments by Information Minister George Kordahi that Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen are acting in self-defence.

His comments came from an Al Jazeera Online interview that was recorded in August, before Mr Kordahi became a minister.

Mr Mikati said that Mr Kordahi’s words “do not express the government’s position at all”, and reiterated his support for Saudi Arabia and the Gulf Co-operation Council.

But Mr Kordahi's statements drew anger for his support of an armed militia which took the capital Sanaa in a coup, displacing the legitimate government, in 2015.

Yemeni Information Minister Moammar Al Eryani said on Twitter that Mr Kordahi’s words reflect “a blind bias to the Houthi terrorist militia, and a disregard for the role of the Iranian regime and its expansionist agenda in Yemen”.

Saudi ambassador to Lebanon Waleed Bukhari retweeted the statement.

Yemen’s Foreign Minister Ahmed Awad bin Mubarak said he had directed Yemen's ambassador in Beirut to hand the Lebanese Foreign Ministry a letter of condemnation over Mr Kordahi's statements.

The UAE's Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Co-operation expressed its "strong condemnation and denunciation of these disgraceful and biased statements" and summoned the Lebanese ambassador.

It said the remarks "contradict diplomatic norms and the history of Lebanon’s relations with the countries of the Arab coalition to support legitimacy in Yemen, and reflect Lebanon’s growing distance from its Arab brothers," state news service Wam reported.

Mr Kordahi’s remarks threatened to spill into a diplomatic crisis with Lebanon’s historic allies in the Gulf. A Saudi-led coalition entered the conflict months after the fall of Sanaa to support Yemen’s internationally recognised government.

This is the second incident in which a Lebanese minister has openly criticised Saudi Arabia this year.

This threatens to further strain relations with a historic ally that have soured as the Iran-backed Hezbollah movement has expanded its influence on Beirut in recent decades.

In May, Charbel Wehbe, at the time caretaker foreign minister, suggested in a TV interview that Gulf states were responsible for the rise of ISIS and made derogatory remarks towards their people.

He resigned following an outcry from Gulf allies and Lebanese politicians.

Mr Mikati said in his first speech as prime minister in September that he is striving for closer ties to Gulf countries.

Mr Kordahi, a former TV show host who rose to fame for hosting the Arabic version of Who Wants to be a Millionaire?, is known for his controversial political opinions.

He has previously expressed support and admiration for Syrian President Bashar Al Assad, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah and for Russian President Vladimir Putin.

“I did not mean, in any way, to offend the kingdom of Saudi Arabia or the UAE,” Mr Kordahi said on Tuesday.

“I hope that my words and the uproar they caused can help stop this harmful war for the sake of Yemen and for the sake of both Saudi Arabia and the UAE.”

The UAE redeployed its forces from Yemen in 2019.

Updated: October 27, 2021, 6:02 PM