Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister said Saturday that the latest crisis with Lebanon is rooted in a Lebanese political setup that strengthens the dominance of Iranian-backed militant Hezbollah and continues to tolerate chronic instability.
Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states have expelled Lebanese ambassadors in a diplomatic squabble that could exacerbate the economic crisis in Lebanon, after Lebanese Information Minister George Kordahi criticized the Saudi-led military intervention in Yemen.
“I think the problem is much broader than the current situation,” Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud told Reuters in a telephone interview. “I think it is important that the Lebanese government or the Lebanese establishment pave the way forward that frees Lebanon from the current political structure that is strengthening Hezbollah’s dominance.”
He said that such an attitude “weakens state institutions in Lebanon, forcing Lebanon to continue to act in a direction that is contrary to the interests of the Lebanese people.”
The scandal prompted a call by some Lebanese politicians for Kordahi’s resignation, while others opposed a move that could undermine the government as a whole.
“We have no opinion about the government in Lebanon. We do not have an opinion on whether it will stay or leave, it depends on the Lebanese people, ”the minister said, speaking from Rome, where he attended the G-20 summit.
Kordahi was publicly supported by Hezbollah and refused to apologize or resign over the comments.
Saudi Arabia has shunned Lebanon for years because of the strong influence of the Shiite group Hezbollah in government affairs, which it accuses of sending militants to Yemen and Syria. Iran and Saudi Arabia, the leading Shia and Sunni Muslim powers in the Middle East, have been rivals for years, but this year they began a series of talks in hopes of defusing tensions.
“So far we have had four rounds of negotiations. Negotiations are cordial, but they remain in the spirit of research. We still hope that they will bring tangible progress … but so far we have not made enough progress to be optimistic, “Prince Faisal Said.
When asked whether another round of talks would be held, the minister said that nothing was planned, “but we are ready to continue.” As part of efforts to reduce tensions, Tehran and Riyadh discussed how to end the seven-year conflict in Yemen, in which tens of thousands have been killed and millions are threatened with starvation.
The war also strained relations between Riyadh and its traditional ally Washington, as US President Joe Biden made ending the war his top foreign policy priority.
Faced with strong US pressure to end the blockade of Yemeni ports, which its Houthi enemies describe as an obstacle to ceasefire negotiations, the kingdom is seeking Washington’s help to strengthen its defenses, sources told Reuters.
“So, I would not agree with such a characteristic [of strained relations]… I think that when it comes to Yemen, we are on the same wavelength with the United States, we both support a comprehensive ceasefire, we both support the political process to resolve the conflict, ”Prince Faisal said.
“I think it is clear that the kingdom is committed to a ceasefire and the Houthis must decide to subscribe to this, and we will not link any discussion of our defensive capabilities to the ceasefire.”