BEIRUT (AP) — Lebanon’s prime minister on Thursday again urged the information minister to step down over an unprecedented diplomatic rift with Saudi Arabia, saying his resignation would be “a priority.”
The rift has threatened to destabilize the new government of Prime Minister Najib Mikati, sworn in less than two months ago, and escalate Lebanon’s economic tailspin.
Mikati said the information minister’s resignation would help resolve a crisis with the kingdom and its Gulf Arab allies, and preserve the “depths and good relations with the Arab and Gulf countries, especially Saudi Arabia.”
He also had stern words for his partners in government — the militant Hezbollah group and its allies — who have rejected calls that Information Minister Georges Kordahi resign.
The spat was triggered by Kordahi’s remarks aired last week about the war in Yemen, where a Saudi-led coalition is battling Iran-backed Houthi rebels. Lebanese officials have said that Kordahi’s remarks do not represent official government views.
Riyadh has withdrawn its ambassador from Beirut and asked the Lebanese envoy to leave the kingdom. It has also banned Lebanese imports, undermining the small nation’s foreign trade and depriving it of millions of dollars even as it struggles amid an economic meltdown.
“The country can’t be managed with the language of challenge and obstinacy,” said Mikati, who returned to Beirut on Wednesday night from the U.N. climate conference in Glasgow, Scotland. “We must unite behind one word to work on saving our country.”
Lebanon had sought French and U.S. mediation with Saudi Arabia.
Mikati’s message appears to be directed mostly at his government partners from the Iran-allied Hezbollah. Some Hezbollah-allied ministers have threatened a walk out if Kordahi goes. Kordahi was named to the government by a Hezbollah-allied party. Hezbollah members have called the Saudi campaign “extortion.”
The row has tested Mikati’s new government, sworn in after more than a year of deadlock among Lebanese politicians over the composition of the government.
Kordahi has refused to resign, insisting Yemen’s Houthis have the right to defend themselves and saying that he did not mean to offend with his comments, which were recorded before he became minister.
Gulf Arab countries have joined Saudi Arabia in pulling out their diplomats from Lebanon, deepening the diplomatic spat.