US warns Saudi Ara­bia and Iran against us­ing Le­banon as ‘proxy war’

The Daily Telegraph - - World news - By Raf Sanchez and Josie En­sor in Beirut

THE US warned Saudi Ara­bia and Iran yes­ter­day not to use Le­banon as “a venue for proxy con­flicts” amid fears that their power strug­gle could desta­bilise the coun­try and cause fresh chaos in the re­gion.

One week af­ter Saad Hariri, the Le­banese prime min­is­ter, abruptly re­signed dur­ing a trip to Saudi Ara­bia, ques­tions con­tin­ued to mount over whether he was be­ing ef­fec­tively held pris­oner in Riyadh.

The ten­sions over Mr Hariri’s fate and other is­sues prompted the United Na­tions sec­re­tary gen­eral to ap­peal for calm and warn that a fresh con­flict in Le­banon would have “dev­as­tat­ing con­se­quences” for the Mid­dle East.

“The US sup­ports the sta­bil­ity of Le­banon and is op­posed to any ac­tions that could threaten that sta­bil­ity,” said Rex Tiller­son, US sec­re­tary of state. “The US cau­tions against any party, within or out­side Le­banon, us­ing Le­banon as a venue for proxy con­flicts or in any man­ner con­tribut­ing to in­sta­bil­ity in that coun­try.”

With­out nam­ing spe­cific coun­tries or groups, he said all regional play­ers must “re­spect the in­tegrity and in­de­pen­dence” of the Le­banese gov­ern­ment and mil­i­tary and called Mr Hariri “a strong part­ner of the United States”.

His state­ment came amid con­cerns that Mr Hariri had been forced to re­sign by Saudi Ara­bia as part of its ef­forts to counter Ira­nian in­flu­ence in Le­banon. It also con­trasted with tweets from Don­ald Trump, who said he had “great con­fi­dence” in Saudi Ara­bia and Mo­hammed bin Sal­man, its ag­gres­sive young crown prince.

Mr Hariri has re­mained in Saudi Ara­bia since re­sign­ing last Satur­day, and while he has met Western diplo­mats he has not done any in­ter­views or con­tacted his clos­est aides.

Many Le­banese sus­pect he is un­der house ar­rest and Michel Aoun, Le­banon’s pres­i­dent, has said he will not ac­cept his res­ig­na­tion un­til he re­turns to the coun­try to de­liver it in per­son.

Even the Fu­ture Move­ment, Mr Hariri’s own po­lit­i­cal party, has in­di­cated he is be­ing held against his will.

Em­manuel Macron, the French pres­i­dent, vis­ited Riyadh briefly on Thurs­day and the French gov­ern­ment gave mixed sig­nals over whether it felt Mr Hariri was at lib­erty or not.

Both the US and Ger­many said they had seen no ev­i­dence that Mr Hariri was be­ing held captive. Has­san Nas­ral­lah, the leader of Hizbol­lah, the Shi­ite mil­i­tant group, which plays a ma­jor role in Le­banon’s pol­i­tics, said Mr Hariri was a pris­oner and that his de­ten­tion was an in­sult to all Le­banese.

An­tónio Guter­res, the UN sec­re­tary gen­eral, ex­pressed fears that the ten­sions would lead to a fresh con­flict in Le­banon, 11 years af­ter fight­ing be­tween Is­rael and Hizbol­lah left thou­sands dead. “It is es­sen­tial that no new con­flict erupts in the re­gion,” he said.

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