Macron to send 'message of appeasement' to Gulf on Lebanon crisis

Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Kuwait recalled their representatives from Beirut following pro-Houthi comments from Lebanese minister

Lebanon's Prime Minister Najib Mikati speaks with France's President Emmanuel Macron during Cop26 in Glasgow. AFP
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French President Emmanuel Macron will send a “message of appeasement” to his country's allies in the Gulf as the diplomatic row over a Lebanese minister's pro-Houthi comments continues, a French diplomatic source said.

Political and diplomatic sources have told The National that France and the US want to prevent Lebanon’s current government, which took 13 months to form, from collapsing due to the spat.

Mr Macron and Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati met on Tuesday on the sidelines of the Cop26 climate change conference and discussed the Gulf crisis as well as the need for political reform.

The French leader expressed his support to Mr Mikati and to the Lebanese government “so it can meet and work on reforms to improve the situation of Lebanese people”, a French diplomatic source said.

“He also reassured the prime minister that he will pass messages of appeasement to partners in the Gulf.”

The president will not be acting as a mediator, the source said, “but when France’s partners do not see eye to eye we pass messages to call for dialogue and peaceful resolutions of differences".

Last week, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Kuwait recalled their representatives to Lebanon after Information Minister George Kordahi said in a televised interview that the Iran-backed Houthi rebels are acting in self-defence.

The Gulf nations who back Yemen’s internationally recognised government against the Houthis said the comments were insulting.

Riyadh has banned all imports from Lebanon and asked Beirut’s envoy to leave.

Saudi Arabia had been a major investor and ally to Lebanon but relations between the two countries have become strained in the past decade as Iran-backed Hezbollah gained more influence in Beirut.

The group and its allies back several ministers in Lebanon's unity government.

Ministers backed by Hezbollah and its allies have threatened to resign should Mr Kordahi leave, the Economy Minister told The National. Such a move could lead to the government’s collapse.

Mr Mikati said in his first speech as prime minister that mending ties with Arab countries was a priority, and that Mr Kordahi's comments do not represent the government.

The country has been reeling from two years of economic meltdown caused by decades of corruption, economic mismanagement and political inaction.

The prime minister met US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken at Cop26, along with other senior foreign officials.

Ali Darwish, a member of Parliament who is part of Mr Mikati’s Azm movement, said that the US and France do not want to see the current government collapse.

“Mikati’s meeting with Macron and Blinken sent a clear message: there is a need to save and support this government. Lebanon must not face another political power vacuum,” he said.

Mr Darwish said that Mr Mikati may consider asking for Mr Kordahi’s resignation upon his return to Beirut on Wednesday or Thursday.

“He has made several calls to resolve the issue and now has several options. One of them is to ask George Kordahi to resign to save the government,” he said.

Mr Kordahi has refused to resign or apologise for the comments over the past week, but seemed to soften his stance in a recent interview.

Hezbollah, which supports the Houthis, expressed solidarity with Mr Kordahi.

Updated: November 03, 2021, 7:14 AM