Lebanon's president calls on Saudi Arabia to resume direct talks after ambassador recall

Saudi Arabia recalled its ambassador over Lebanese minister’s Houthi remarks

Lebanese President Michel Aoun urged Saudi Arabia on Monday to resume direct talks with Beirut to defuse tensions after a Lebanese minister’s pro-Houthi remarks triggered a diplomatic crisis with the Gulf.

Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Kuwait and Bahrain all recalled their representatives to Lebanon, and Riyadh banned all imports from the country in the most serious split in years between the country’s Iran-aligned government and its historic allies in the Gulf.

Mr Aoun expressed “keenness to establish the best relations with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states and the need to address any problems that arise through direct dialogue", in a statement released by the Presidency on Monday.

Relations between Lebanon and Saudi Arabia have soured in the past decade as the Iran-backed Hezbollah group has expanded its influence on Beirut.

Information Minister George Kordahi has so far refused to apologise or resign over his remarks, which Saudi Arabia and Gulf nations deem insulting. Hezbollah and the Houthis expressed support for Mr Kordahi.

He said last week that the Iran-backed Houthi militia was acting in self-defence against foreign attackers.

The Houthis swept into Yemen's capital Aden in 2014, forcing the internationally recognised government to flee.

Riyadh has led an Arab coalition to support the Yemeni government against the Houthi rebels since 2015.

Lebanon's Foreign Minister Abdullah Bou Habib echoed Mr Aoun’s calls for direct talks.

“Lebanon invites Saudi Arabia to engage in dialogue to solve all outstanding problems and not just the latest spat, so that the same crisis is not repeated every time,” Mr Bou Habib told AFP.

Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Minister, Prince Faisal bin Farhan, said on Sunday that the kingdom was no longer interested in dealing with Beirut because of Hezbollah’s dominance in the country and the political class’s inability to introduce reforms.

The Lebanese government said Mr Kordahi’s remarks did not represent its views but stopped short of asking him to resign.

Prime minister Najib Mikati met at least two Gulf leaders on the sidelines of the Cop26 climate change conference in the UK on Monday.

He spoke to his Kuwaiti counterpart Sheikh Sabah Al Khalid Al Sabah, saying afterwards that Sheikh Sabah told him Lebanon “will find all the required support from Kuwait and other Arab countries".

Mr Mikati also met Sheikh Tamim, Emir of Qatar, who said Doha would send its foreign minister to Beirut soon "to discuss ways to support Lebanon and to complete the research on the proposed files, especially dealing with the Lebanese-Gulf crisis".

Updated: November 1st 2021, 5:54 PM
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