Sun. Nov 28th, 2021

Beirut, Lebanon – Talks with Lebanese officials to resolve a diplomatic rift with Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries have been “positive,” said Hossam Zaki, assistant secretary general of the Arab League.

Zaki’s Arab League delegation arrived in Beirut on Monday to hear the Lebanese position in a first step to resolve the crisis caused by comments made by Lebanon’s minister of information covering the Saudi – led coalition’s war criticized in Yemen.

“We have come to see if there is a possibility to bring the different perspectives together,” he told the press this morning.

He said he was willing to travel to Saudi Arabia to help resolve the crisis if necessary, and he wanted to find an “appropriate exit” from the rift that suited both Lebanese and Gulf countries’ interests.

The delegation has so far met with President Michel Aoun and Prime Minister Najib Mikati.

President Aoun said in a statement that he welcomed efforts by the Arab League to rekindle ties with Saudi Arabia through dialogue.

He called for the separation of the Lebanese government’s official positions from those of individuals or political parties, “especially because they have not been issued from a position of authority”.

The Arab League delegation will also meet later Monday with Speaker Nabih Berri and Foreign Minister Abdallah Bouhabib.

Mikati has repeatedly called for restoration of relations with Saudi Arabia and Gulf countries, while Aoun and Bouhabib have called for direct dialogue.

Qatar has offered to send its foreign minister to mediate and help resolve the crisis.

A diplomatic dispute between Lebanon and several Gulf states erupted in October after video footage circulated online of an August interview in which Information Minister George Kordahi made critical remarks about the Saudi-led coalition’s war against Houthi rebels in Yemen.

The former game show host said the Houthis, who are in line in Iran, “defend themselves … against external aggression”.

In response, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait and Bahrain recalled their envoys from Beirut and suspended their Lebanese ambassadors.

Saudi Arabia has also banned all imports from Lebanon, which has an impact on what experts say is about 6 percent of the country’s total exports are cash and an earlier partial ban is escalating.

Bahrain and the UAE have called on their citizens to leave the country, while Yemen has since recalled its envoy from Beirut.

Kordahi refused to resign, insisting that his remarks were his personal opinion and were made before taking office.

Saudi Arabia has distanced itself from Lebanon in recent years and has often criticized it for the growing influence of Iran-backed Hezbollah in Lebanese politics. Kordahi was appointed by the Marada movement, a Christian party closely linked to Hezbollah and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Hezbollah, which sees Saudi Arabia as a “terrorist” organization, supports the Houthis in Yemen and praised Kordahi for his remarks.

“[Hezbollah] “Lebanon has created an arena and a launching platform for the implementation of projects of countries that do not wish well for Lebanon and its fraternal people,” reads a Saudi statement issued on October 29.

Meanwhile, Hezbollah’s deputy secretary general Naim Qassem last week called on Saudi Arabia to apologize for what it said was an “aggression” on Lebanon that is cash. Secretary-General Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah will speak on the issue for the first time in a speech later this week.

Relations between Lebanon and Saudi Arabia have already been strained, with the latter imposing an indefinite ban on Lebanese agricultural products in April after they thwarted an attempt to turn amphetamines into fruit.

In May, Lebanon’s then-Foreign Minister Charbel Wehbe resigned after insinuating that Gulf countries were behind the rise of ISIL (ISIS) in a heated argument with Saudi lobbyist Salman al-Ansari on Alhurra TV.

The diplomatic crisis has also increased the existing political paralysis and tensions between parties in Lebanon. The cabinet has not met in almost a month, already plagued by disputes over Beirut blast investigation led by Judge Tarek Bitar.

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