Cop26: Lebanon's Mikati in flurry of meetings with world leaders as Gulf crisis escalates

Lebanese PM on diplomatic charm offensive in Glasgow to solve crisis

Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati arrives for the Cop26 summit in Glasgow. AFP
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Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati met US Secretary of State Antony Blinken at the Cop26 climate change conference in Glasgow on Tuesday, one of many meetings focusing on the country's economic plight and split with Gulf nations.

Mr Blinken is the most senior US official that Mr Mikati has met since taking office in September.

Mr Mikati has convened with a range of foreign and Arab leaders since arriving in Glasgow on Monday, in meetings aimed at improving his embattled government’s relations with Western and Gulf allies, after a Lebanese minister’s pro-Houthi comments stirred a diplomatic row with Saudi Arabia.

Mr Blinken said they had a “productive meeting” and “discussed the need to implement urgent reforms to address Lebanon’s economic crisis and to hold free and fair elections next year”, on his official Twitter account.

Lebanon has been grappling with its biggest diplomatic crisis in years with historic allies and investors in the Gulf, after Information Minister George Kordahi said in a televised interview that the Iran-backed Houthis were acting in self-defence against foreign aggressors.

A Riyadh-led Arab coalition has supported Yemen's internationally recognised government against the Houthis since 2015.

Saudi Arabia is a major US ally in the Middle East but its ties with Beirut are strained because of Iran-backed Hezbollah's growing influence on the country.

In efforts to smooth relations, Mr Mikati visited the UAE and Saudi Arabia pavilions at the conference. The two countries had recalled their ambassadors to Lebanon over Mr Kordahi's remarks.

Mr Mikati also spoke to French President Emmanuel Macron on Monday. He did not disclose the nature of their talks but said Mr Macron “extended the meeting several times even though he was busy”.

France is a former colonial power in Lebanon and the country’s closest Western ally. Mr Macron rallied support for Beirut in a donor conference last year after the deadly explosion at the port ripped through the Lebanese capital.

The French president has called on Lebanon’s politicians, widely accused of corruption and inaction in the face of economic meltdown, to enact reforms to unlock billions of dollars in debt relief and loans.

One of the chief reforms required to unlock aid and loans is securing a package from the International Monetary Fund. Talks broke down between the Lebanese government and the IMF last year after the Cabinet, Parliament and Central Bank failed to agree on the size of the losses incurred by the country’s banking sector.

In a meeting with IMF director general Kristalina Georgieva in Glasgow, she said the negotiations must be successful this time, "because it is the door to the only available solution" for Lebanon’s woes.

Mr Mikati spoke to UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres, who said that he would visit Beirut by the end of the year.

Updated: November 02, 2021, 4:13 PM