Lebanese FM’s remarks infuriate Saudi Arabia

Published May 19, 2021
Lebanon’s outgoing foreign minister Charbel Wehbe stoked fresh tensions on Monday when he suggested during a televised debate that Gulf states were behind the rise of the extremist group in Iraq and Syria. — Reuters
Lebanon’s outgoing foreign minister Charbel Wehbe stoked fresh tensions on Monday when he suggested during a televised debate that Gulf states were behind the rise of the extremist group in Iraq and Syria. — Reuters

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia on Tuesday summoned Leba­non’s ambassador to the kingdom to protest “insulting” remarks by his country’s foreign minister, who appeared to blame Gulf states for the rise of the militant Islamic State group.

Saudi Arabia seems to have taken a step back from its former ally, angered by the influence of Hezbollah, which is backed by Riyadh’s rival Tehran.

Lebanon’s outgoing foreign minister Charbel Wehbe stoked fresh tensions on Monday when he suggested during a televised debate that Gulf states were behind the rise of the extremist group in Iraq and Syria.

He made the comment dur­ing a verbal duel with a Saudi guest on the show, who blamed Lebanon’s President Michel Aoun for “handing over” his country to Hezbollah.

In a statement, the Saudi foreign ministry strongly condemned Wehbe’s “insulting” remarks, saying they were “inconsistent with the simplest diplomatic norms”.

The ministry “summoned the Lebanese ambassador to express the kingdom’s rejection and denunciation” of his comments, said the statement released by the official Saudi Press Agency.

The ambassador was han­d­ed an official “letter of protest”, the statement added.

Wehbe apologised on Tues­day for his remarks, saying he did not mean to offend “brotherly Arab countries”.

Faced with a crippling economic crisis, Lebanon’s government also moved swiftly to distance itself from the remarks that angered Riya­dh, once a key financial backer of Beirut.

Aoun said the remarks were Wehbe’s “personal opinion” and did not reflect the position of the state, as he lauded the “brotherly” ties with Saudi Arabia and the Gulf.

Published in Dawn, May 19th, 2021

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