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Saudi Arabia denies diplomatic crisis with Lebanon

November 2, 2021 at 4:29 pm

Saudi Arabian Foreign Minister Faisal bin Farhan Al-Saud in Moscow, Russia on January 14, 2021 [Russian Foreign Ministry/Anadolu Agency]

Saudi Foreign Minister, Prince Faisal bin Farhan, has denied that his country has a diplomatic crisis with Lebanon, saying Riyadh sees any engagement with Beirut not “productive”.

“I don’t think I would call it a crisis,” the top diplomat told CNBC during an interview on Tuesday.

But “we have come to the conclusion that dealing with Lebanon and its current government is not productive and not helpful,” he added.

Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Kuwait and Bahrain recalled their ambassadors from Lebanon in protest of Lebanese Information Minister, George Kordahi’s critical comments of the Saudi military campaign in Yemen in a televised interview said to be recorded before he took his post in the new Cabinet of Prime Minister, Najib Mikati.

Asked if he “thinks that the Houthis, like Hezbollah, are defending their land as an armed organization,” Kordahi responded: “Of course they are defending themselves  … My personal opinion is that this war in Yemen needs to end. Houses, buildings, villages and cities are being attacked by fighter jets.”

READ: Bahrain calls on its citizens to leave Lebanon

Bin Farhan said Kordahi’s comments represented “a symptom of a reality, a reality that the political scene in Lebanon continues to be dominated by Hezbollah, a terrorist group, a group that, by the way, arms and supplies and trains that Houthi militia.”

Yemen has been engulfed by violence and instability since 2014, when Iran-aligned Houthi rebels captured much of the country, including the capital, Sana’a. A Saudi-led coalition, aimed at reinstating the Yemeni government, has worsened the situation and caused one of the world’s worst man-made humanitarian crises.

Lebanon's Information Minister, George Kordahi criticised for his comments defending the Iran-backed Houthis in Yemen, saying they were acting in "self-defence"- Cartoon [Sabaaneh/Middle East Monitor]

Lebanon’s Information Minister, George Kordahi, is criticised for his comments defending the Iran-backed Houthis in Yemen, saying they were acting in “self-defence”- Cartoon [Sabaaneh/Middle East Monitor]

The Saudi minister criticised the Lebanese government’s “reluctance … to enact the necessary reforms, the necessary actions to push Lebanon in the direction of real change.”

Since late 2019, Lebanon has been grappling with severe domestic challenges, including massive currency depreciation and fuel and medical supply shortages.

Saudi-Iran relations

Regarding Saudi Arabia’s relationship with Iran following recent talks between the two rivals, bin Farhan said the relations were “cordial” and the talks were “exploratory”.

“We are talking,” the top diplomat said, when quizzed about Iran.

“We, in the kingdom, are committed to finding a path towards forging understanding with Iran that address a regional security instability in a way that we can all focus on building a prosperous future for our people.”

Bin Farhan said the talks between Riyadh and Tehran are currently “exploratory in nature”, explaining that the two countries had held four rounds of talks, but hinted of a possibility of another round.

“We’re working that out. We haven’t really reached any conclusive progress. But they have been, I would say, positive enough to allow for further discussion beyond, but nothing concrete as of yet.”

Saudi Arabia and Iran severed diplomatic ties in January 2016, following an attack on the Saudi Embassy in Tehran after Shia cleric, Nimr al-Nimr, was executed by Saudi authorities.

Relations between the two rivals deteriorated further after Iran, in September 2016, accused Saudi authorities of deliberately causing the deaths of around 400 Iranian pilgrims in a 2015 stampede in the Muslim holy city of Mecca.

The two sides have since been engaged in a strong regional rivalry, often accusing each other of waging a proxy war for regional influence.

Diplomatic efforts to break the ice between the long time regional rivals have intensified in recent months, with officials of both sides citing progress in talks brokered by Iraq.

There is already a buzz about the two sides agreeing to re-open consulates as a first step toward restoring diplomatic ties.