BEIRUT: Lebanon’s president said yesterday he wants the best relations with Saudi Arabia, looking to heal a rift with the kingdom after it expelled Beirut’s envoy and banned Lebanese imports in a diplomatic spat that risks adding to Lebanon’s economic crisis.
In a tweet Michel Aoun said Lebanon is keen on strengthening links via bilateral deals, after mounting tensions following critical comments by a Lebanese minister about the Saudi-led military intervention in Yemen.
The row has spurred calls by some top politicians for the resignation of Information Minister George Kordahi, while others opposed such a move, which could undermine the government as a whole.
Following a near three-hour ministerial crisis meeting yesterday, Education Minister Abbas Halabi said the government could not afford to resign over the diplomatic dispute.
“The country cannot be left without a government,” due to other pressing matters, and would continue to work to resolve the rift, Halabi said.
Saudi Arabia expelled Lebanon’s envoy and banned all Lebanese imports on Friday, and Bahrain and Kuwait followed suit, giving the top Lebanese diplomats 48 hours to exit. The UAE later said it would withdraw all its diplomats and banned its citizens from travelling to Lebanon.
Kordahi’s resignation would have knock-on effects that could threaten Prime Minister Najib Mikati’s coalition government, tasked with addressing a financial crisis dubbed by the World Bank as one of the worst in modern history.
Kordahi left without making a statement after a visit to the country’s top Christian cleric, Maronite Patriarch Bechara Boutros Al Rai yesterday.
Foreign Minister Abdallah Bou Habib said Mikati’s contacts with officials from a number of states showed opposition to the resignation of the government, formed only last month after a 13-month stalemate.
Kordahi has been publicly backed by the Iran-backed Hizbollah and has declined to apologise or resign over the comments, which have dealt the worst blow to Saudi-Lebanese relations.
A group of former Lebanese prime ministers called for Kordahi to resign, however, saying his comments had inflicted a strong blow to relations with Gulf Arab nations.
Fouad Seniora, Hariri and Tammam Sallam, some of the country’s top pro-Saudi politicians, said in the statement that Kordahi’s remarks “harmed Lebanon’s supreme national interest”.
Oman expressed regret over worsening relations between some Arab countries and Lebanon, calling on all parties to exercise restraint and avoid escalation.
Qatar also denounced comments by Kordahi, calling on the Lebanese government to take urgent measures to rebuild bridges between “brotherly nations”, and dismissing Kordahi’s comments as “irresponsible”.