CAIRO: Lebanese politicians yesterday scrambled to resolve a growing diplomatic rift with Gulf countries after comments by a Cabinet minister about the war in Yemen stoked their ire.
Lebanon’s Foreign Minister Abdullah Bu Habib has said Prime Minister Najib Mikati is in contact Americans to help solve the crisis. Also, Interior Minister Bassam Mawlawi told the US-based Arabic-language Alhurra TV that Mikati has asked the international community, specifically the US, to help solve the crisis, and to open room for dialogue with Saudi Arabia over all pending issues. “They can help in solving these problems,’’ Bu Habib said about the United States.
Bu Habib cancelled his visit to Glasgow, Scotland, where he was supposed to attend a UN climate summit, to deal with the crisis with the oil-rich Gulf nations. He said Mikati will go to Glasgow, where he will discuss the crisis with foreign dignitaries.
Lebanese Maronite Patriarch Bechara Boutros Al Rai called on the authorities on Sunday to take a “decisive step” to defuse a crisis with Gulf states over critical comments made by Information Minister George Kordahi about Yemen. Rai, who made the plea to President Michel Aoun and Prime Minister Najib Mikati in his Sunday sermon, did not suggest any specific measure.
On Saturday evening, the minister at the centre of the criris George Kordahi visited Bechara Rai to consult him on the matter but gave no comments afterward. Kordahi, a former show host on a Saudi-owned TV station, had earlier refused to apologise, saying his comments meant no offence to the kingdom.
The US State Department said in a statement: “We urge that all diplomatic channels remain open between the parties to ensure meaningful dialogue on the pressing issues facing Lebanon.’’
The row is one of the worst rifts between the Gulf nations and Lebanon in years. Relations have been strained over growing Iranian influence in the nation.
On Saturday afternoon, Saudi ambassador to Beirut Waleed Bukhari flew home after he was recalled by his government, according to airport officials in Beirut. Bukhari’s departure came a day after Saudi Arabia ordered Lebanon’s ambassador to Riyadh to leave within 48 hours and banned all imports from Lebanon.
Qatar on Saturday denounced the comments, a statement from the media office of the Qatari foreign ministry said. Qatar also called on the Lebanese government to take urgent measures to rebuild bridges between “brotherly nations”, dismissing George Kordahi’s comments as “irresponsible”.
Kordahi criticised the Saudi-led military intervention in Yemen in a TV show that was aired recently. He says his comments were made before he became a minister.
Oman, meanwhile, expressed regret over worsening relations between some Arab countries and Lebanon, calling on all parties to exercise restraint and avoid escalation, the foreign ministry said in a statement on Saturday.
In Beirut, several government officials met Saturday to discuss the crisis that is likely to have major repercussions on Lebanon. The meeting was briefly attended by the US embassy’s Deputy Chief of Mission Richard Michaels at the foreign ministry in Beirut, according to Bu Habib.
President Michel Aoun said in a statement that Lebanon wants the best relations with Saudi Arabia and its neighbours.