Kuwait supports Lebanese sovereignty
BEIRUT, Nov 14, (Agencies): Kuwait’s ambassador to Lebanon told President Michel Aoun the Gulf monarchy supports his efforts to overcome the “delicate situation” and stands by Lebanese sovereignty, Aoun said in a tweet on Tuesday.
Lebanon’s Saudi-allied Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri declared his resignation on Nov 4 in a broadcast from Riyadh, throwing Lebanon into political crisis.
Saudi Arabia, an ally of Kuwait, has accused Lebanon of declaring war on it because of the influence of Iran-backed Hezbollah, and has advised Saudi citizens to leave Lebanon.
Saad al-Hariri will return to Lebanon from Saudi Arabia within two days, he said on Tuesday, 10 days after his shock resignation as prime minister in a broadcast from Riyadh.
Writing on Twitter, Hariri said he was well and that his family was staying in Saudi Arabia.
His abrupt resignation on Nov 4 sent Lebanon spinning into political crisis and back onto the front line of the Middle East power struggle between Saudi Arabia and Iran.
Iran’s ally Hezbollah holds major sway in Lebanese politics. It has long been a foe of Hariri but is part of the coalition government he formed last year and called for his return.
In his resignation he made bitter attacks on both Iran and Hezbollah, and top Lebanese officials and politicians close to Hariri have said Saudi Arabia coerced him to resign, dictated his statement and have held him under house arrest.
Riyadh and Hariri have both denied that. Hariri is a political ally of Riyadh and holds Saudi
nationality. He cited a fear of assassination and Hezbollah’s “sowing strife” in the Arab world as his reasons for stepping down.
Riyadh and Hariri both oppose Hezbollah’s military role in Syria, fighting alongside President Bashar al-Assad, and what they allege is its participation in Yemen’s civil war alongside the Houthi group against a Saudi-led coalition.
Hezbollah denies having a role in the Yemeni conflict.
Lebanese President Michel Aoun has said he will not accept Hariri’s resignation until he returns to Beirut to formally submit it. Analysts say that when Hariri does so, members of parliament will nominate him to serve as prime minister once again, and Aoun will ask him to form a new government.
That would open the door to a long period of political talks like those which preceded the formation of the national unity government that made Hariri prime minister a year ago.
Hariri is expected to call on Aoun to convene high-political dialogue on key issues facing Lebanon, chiefly on reaffirming the tiny country’s policy of staying out of regional conflicts and Hezbollah’s role in conflicts outside Lebanon’s borders, senior political sources say.
Any attempt to keep Hezbollah out of the government, in line with Saudi wishes, will torpedo the talks, political sources say. Riyadh regards Hezbollah as a terrorist group.
Hariri warned on Sunday in his first interview since resigning of possible Gulf Arab sanctions against Lebanon and of the livelihoods of the 300,000400,000 Lebanese in the Gulf.
After Hariri’s resignation, Saudi Arabia accused the Lebanese government of declaring war on it because of Hezbollah’s pivotal role in Lebanese politics.
However, Riyadh’s Western allies have struck a tone different from Saudi Arabia, appearing to throw their weight behind both Hariri and the Lebanese state, whose army is a major recipient of US aid.
Sources across Lebanon’s political divide have said Hariri struck a more compromising tone in his interview than in his resignation statement, at one point holding out the possibility of rescinding his decision to quit.
They say this represents a retreat by Saudi Arabia, attributing it to Western pressure.
The Maronite Patriarch Bechara Boutros al-Rai, head of Lebanon’s biggest Christian community, met Hariri and Saudi King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed in Riyadh on Tuesday.
Saudi al-Arabiya television quoted him as saying he supported the reasons for Hariri’s resignation. His comments reflect the views of some politicians in Lebanon’s divided Maronite community but not President Aoun.
Echoing Saudi demands, MPs from Hariri’s Future Movement called for a UN resolution from 2006 that demanded all militias in Lebanon disarm to be respected.
Hezbollah is the only Lebanese group with a militia, and says it needs weapons to secure Lebanon from Israel.
Hezbollah’s Lebanese opponents have long demanded it disarm.
Lebanese politicians have previously held talks on Hezbollah’s arsenal as part of a dialogue on a national defence strategy, but have never seriously discussed disarming it.
The head of Lebanon’s Maronite church, in a historic visit to Saudi Arabia, voiced support Tuesday for prime minister Saad Hariri over his resignation, which tipped his country into crisis.
Beshara Rai arrived in Riyadh on Monday in the first trip to the kingdom by a senior Lebanese figure since Hariri quit on Nov 4 in a shock announcement from the Saudi capital.
Hariri had cited fears for his life and accused Hezbollah, the powerful Shiite movement that is part of his government but close to Saudi Arabia’s arch-rival Iran, of controlling Lebanon.
“I am convinced by the reasons for his resignation,” Rai said. “He will return to Lebanon as soon as possible.”
Many observers suspected Riyadh had ordered him to resign, and senior Lebanese politicians have alleged he is under de facto house arrest in the capital.
But in his first tweet in several days on Tuesday, Hariri brushed aside those allegations.
“Everybody, I’m totally fine. God willing, I’ll be back in these two days. Let’s calm down,” he wrote.
He added that his family would stay in Saudi Arabia, calling it “their country”.
Hariri’s resignation came against the backdrop of mounting tensions between Sunni Saudi Arabia and Shiite Iran, which back opposing sides in conflicts and power struggles from Syria to Yemen.
Lebanon has been buffeted for decades by conflicts between bigger players in the region such as Iran and Syria.
The latest crisis has sparked international concern, with the US warning against using Lebanon as a “venue for proxy conflicts” and the United Nations saying it was essential no new conflict erupts in an already strife-torn region.
“Saudi Arabia has lit a fire, and seems bent on a more aggressive confrontation with Iran,” said Thanassis Cambanis, senior fellow at The Century Foundation, a New York thinktank.
“Hariri seems less intent on confrontation than (Saudi Arabia), but Hariri doesn’t seem to be able to call his own shots,” Cambanis told AFP.
In a fresh statement Tuesday, French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe said that Hariri must be able to return home from Saudi Arabia to end uncertainty caused by his abrupt resignation.
French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, who previously voiced concern over the crisis in Lebanon, is set to visit Riyadh on Thursday.
Rai’s trip to Saudi Arabia, though overshadowed by Hariri’s resignation, is significant as it symbolises a rare inter-religious exchange in the ultra-conservative Sunni kingdom, home to the holiest sites in Islam.
Rai is the top cleric in Lebanon’s powerful Maronite community, and is regularly consulted by both Christian and non-Christian political figures as well as receiving foreign dignitaries.
During his visit to Saudi Arabia, he met King Salman and powerful Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman on Tuesday.
The patriarch and the king “reviewed fraternal relations between the kingdom and Lebanon and confirmed the importance of the role of different religions and cultures in promoting tolerance, renouncing violence and terrorism,” the state-run Saudi Press Agency said.
French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe said Tuesday that Lebanon’s Saad Hariri must be able to return home from Saudi Arabia to end uncertainty caused by his abrupt resignation.
“What’s at stake is Mr Hariri being able to return home freely to clarify his situation in line with the Lebanese constitution,” Philippe told parliament, saying his resignation, announced in Saudi Arabia, had caused “a period of uncertainty”.
Hariri announced he was stepping down as Lebanon’s prime minister in a televised speech in Riyadh on November 4. It led to speculation that he is being held against his will in Saudi Arabia under the assertive rule of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
European nations and the US have not pointed the finger at Saudi authorities directly, but have expressed public concern about Hariri’s absence and warned against attempts to interfere in Lebanon’s fragile democracy.
On his official Twitter account, Hariri attempted again on Tuesday to dispel rumours he was being prevented from leaving.
“Guys, I am perfectly fine, and God willing I will return in the coming days. Let’s calm down,” he wrote.
The EU’s diplomatic chief Federica Mogherini said Tuesday that European diplomats had “close contacts” with the resigned premier and also expected him to return home “in the coming days”.
Lebanese Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil travelled for talks on Tuesday to Brussels and Paris.
Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (left), is greeted by HH the Amir Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah, prior to their talks in Kuwait City on Nov 14. Erdogan is on a two-day tour of the Middle East, that will also take him to Qatar.