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