Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister denies diplomatic “crisis” with Lebanon

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Saudi Foreign Minister Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud comes to a meeting of G20 foreign and development ministers in Matera on June 29, 2021.

ALBERTO PIZZOLI | AFP | Getty Images

Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister has denied that the kingdom is going through a diplomatic crisis with Lebanon, but said the country does not see any current engagement with Beirut as “productive or useful”.

The comments come after Saudi Arabia ordered the Lebanese ambassador to leave the kingdom following “offensive” remarks by a Lebanese minister.

“I don’t think I would call it a crisis,” Prince Faisal bin Farhan al-Saud told CNBC’s Hadley Gamble in Rome, Italy on Saturday, but said the Lebanese minister’s comments on the role of Saudi Arabia in the ongoing civil war in Yemen – demonstrated that the Iranian-backed militant group Hezbollah was increasingly dominant in Lebanese politics.

“I think we have come to the conclusion that dealing with Lebanon and its current government is not productive and not helpful as Hezbollah continues to dominate the political scene and we reflect the continued reluctance of this government and Lebanese political leaders in general perceive to adopt the necessary reforms, the necessary measures to push Lebanon in the direction of real change, “said Prince Faisal.

“We decided that at this point, in my opinion, engagement is neither productive nor useful. And it’s not really in our best interest.”

The Lebanese Minister of Information, George Kordahi, made remarks in an interview in which he referred to the Saudi-led military intervention in Yemen and described the war as “pointless”. It also appeared to indicate that Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates were aggressors in the conflict.

The ongoing civil war in Yemen, which has lasted seven years, has seen Saudi Arabia-led forces (which support the Yemeni government) fight against Iran-backed Houthi rebels for control of the country.

In response to the comments, Saudi Arabia ordered the Lebanese ambassador to leave within 48 hours on Friday and called back its own ambassador from Lebanon. Bahrain, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates have also taken similar measures in solidarity with Saudi Arabia.

The Lebanese government has tried to calm the diplomatic crisis and has reportedly said that Kordahi’s remarks (made before he became minister) did not reflect their position. The pressure on the minister to resign is also growing. For his part, Kordahi said he did not want to offend Saudi Arabia or the United Arab Emirates.

Prince Faisal told CNBC that the Lebanese minister’s comments were “a symptom of a reality, a reality that the political scene in Lebanon continues to be dominated by Hezbollah, a terrorist group that incidentally sells weapons, relief supplies and trains.” Houthi militia. “

“So for us it is more comprehensive than just the comments of a minister, it is more an indication of the state in which Lebanon is.”

Economic crisis

The current economic crisis in Lebanon is one of the worst in modern history, according to the World Bank. Your government has failed for years to implement political and economic reforms to manage its crippling debt, clean up its banking sector, and tackle entrenched corruption by political elites.

18 different religious communities live in Lebanon. For this reason, his unique but widely criticized consensus government is based on a power-sharing structure in which the Prime Minister, the President and the Speaker of the House must come from the three largest religious groups in the country: Sunnis, Maronite Christians and Shiites, respectively.

This facility, say Lebanese citizens and regional experts, often facilitates and encourages the manipulation, corruption and interference of foreign powers by these various sectarian groups.

Iran

The war in Yemen is often seen as a proxy conflict between Saudi Arabia and Iran, bitter rivals of power in the Middle East.

The Sunni and Shiite Muslim powers have been supporting opposing sides in regional conflicts and political disputes in Syria, Lebanon and elsewhere for years. You broke off diplomatic relations in 2016.

But Saudi Arabia and Iran started talks in April to try to resolve longstanding problems.

Riyadh confirmed earlier this month that it held direct talks with the new Iranian government in September, shortly after the election of hardliner and anti-Western cleric Ebrahim Raisi.

According to the Financial Times, Prince Faisal said the talks between Riyadh and Tehran were “cordial” and described the negotiations as “exploratory”.

Speaking to CNBC on Saturday, Prince Faisal confirmed that talks will continue but no solid progress has been made so far.

“We speak. We in the Kingdom are determined to find a way to come to an understanding with Iran that will address regional security instability in such a way that we can all focus on building a prosperous future for our people of an exploratory nature. We had four laps [of discussions] until now. Maybe we have another round. We’re working this out. We haven’t made any really conclusive progress yet. But I would say they were positive enough to allow further discussion, but nothing concrete. ‘

His remarks in Rome reflect recent signs that the frosty relationship between the two regional rivals may begin to thaw. Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian said at a press conference on October 7th that talks about improving diplomatic relations had gone “a good deal”. And last week, Iran resumed exports to Saudi Arabia for the first time since rivals suspended bilateral trade last year.

It was announced last week that the world powers would resume talks with Iran to revive the 2015 nuclear deal that lifted sanctions against the Islamic Republic in return for curtailing its nuclear program.

Saudi Arabia’s Prince Faisal reflected concerns from Western nations that Iran is meeting its obligations under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (or JCPOA, essentially the 2015 nuclear deal) to curb nuclear activities in the country and allow the country to inspect its activities International Atomic Energy Organization.

“It is crucial for us that we deal with the ongoing nuclear activity in Iran. We see Iran continue to meet its commitments, not just to the JCPOA, but even to the Non-Proliferation Treaty [a treaty aimed at limiting the spread of nuclear weapons]. And I think it is also crucial that you raise the issue of inaccessibility for the IAEA. And these are real threats to regional security and stability, “he said.

Prince Faisal spoke on the sidelines of the G-20 summit in Rome. During the two-day weekend meeting, the political leaders of the world’s 20 largest economies will hold their first face-to-face meeting in two years.

– CNBC’s Natasha Turak contributed to this article.


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