BEIRUT — Lebanon’s government cannot afford to resign over a growing diplomatic crisis with Saudi Arabia and some Gulf states, a member of a Lebanese crisis group of ministers said Saturday following a near three-hour meeting over the widening rift.
“The country cannot be left without a government,” due to other pressing matters, and would continue to work to resolve the rift, Education Minister Abbas Halabi said after the meeting.
The row over critical comments made by Lebanese Information Minister George Kurdahi about the Saudi-led military intervention in Yemen had spurred calls by some top politicians for Kurdahi’s resignation, while others opposed the move.
Saudi Arabia expelled Lebanon’s envoy and banned all Lebanese imports on Friday, and Bahrain and Kuwait followed suit, giving the top Lebanese diplomats 48 hours to exit.
Kurdahi’s resignation would have knock-on effects that could threaten Prime Minister Najib Mikati's coalition government.
But Foreign Minister Abdallah Bou Habib said Mikati’s contacts with officials from a number of states showed opposition to the resignation of the government, formed only last month after a 13-month stalemate.
“They told Mikati, ‘if you are thinking about resignation, take that out of your head,’” he said.
Richard Michaels, deputy head of the US mission in Lebanon, had joined the crisis meeting in Beirut, a US Embassy spokesperson said, declining to comment further.
Mikati had asked Kurdahi on Friday to consider Lebanon’s “national interests” but stopped short of asking for his resignation.
Kurdahi has been publicly backed by the Iran-backed Hezbollah armed group and has declined to apologize or resign over the comments, which have dealt the worst blow to Saudi-Lebanese relations since Saad Hariri’s 2017 detention in Riyadh.
The minister’s political patron, Sleiman Frangieh of the Hezbollah-allied Marada Movement, told a news conference he had refused an offer by Kurdahi to resign and would not name a successor to him should he do so.
Yet a group of former Lebanese prime ministers called on Saturday for Kurdahi to resign, saying his comments had inflicted a strong blow to relations with Gulf Arab nations.
Fuad Seniora, Hariri and Tammam Salam, some of the country’s top Sunni politicians, said in the statement that Kurdahi's remarks “harmed Lebanon's supreme national interest.”
If Kurdahi resigns, ministers backed by Hezbollah and its Amal ally could follow suit at a time when the government is already paralyzed by a dispute over an inquiry into the August 2020 explosion that devastated parts of Beirut.
A senior political source told Reuters that the US and European nations were in contact with Lebanese officials to prevent the government from falling and there were no immediate indications any ministers would resign.
The row comes as Lebanon struggles with a financial crisis dubbed by the World Bank as one of the worst in modern history.
Mikati has been hoping to improve ties with Gulf Arab states strained for years because of the influence wielded in Beirut by the Iran-backed Hezbollah.
Saudi Arabia had already in April banned all fruit and vegetable imports from Lebanon, blaming an increase in drug smuggling that it said Lebanon had failed to address — that ban has now been extended to all goods.
The Arab League said in a statement on Saturday it was concerned about the souring of Lebanese-Gulf relations and appealed to Gulf countries “to reflect on the measures proposed to be taken ... in order to avoid further negative effects on the collapsing Lebanese economy.”
BEIRUT — Lebanon’s government cannot
afford to resign over a growing diplomatic crisis with Saudi
Arabia and some Gulf states, a member of a Lebanese crisis group
of ministers said Saturday following a near three-hour
meeting over the widening rift.
“The country cannot be left without a government,” due to
other pressing matters, and would continue...