Kuwait sup­ports Le­banese sovereignty

Arab Times - - FRONT PAGE -

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.

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