BEIRUT, Lebanon — Lebanon’s foreign minister said Saturday that his country will not disarm the Iran-funded Hezbollah terror group, one of 10 confidence-building measures requested from Beirut by Persian Gulf nations.
“I am not going to hand over Hezbollah’s weapons nor end Hezbollah’s existence. This is out of the question in Lebanon,” Foreign Minister Abdallah Bouhabib told satellite broadcaster Al-Jazeera, calling the jihadist group a “Lebanese party par excellence” that is active in the government but does not dominate politics in Lebanon.
Bouhabib made the remark ahead of his departure to Kuwait to deliver answers to the list of policy suggestions made to the country by Gulf states in an attempt to end an impasse between both sides.
Relations between impoverished Lebanon and the wealthy Gulf states are at their lowest levels in decades, a crisis triggered late last year when a Lebanese politician spoke critically of the Saudi-led war against Iran-backed rebels in Yemen.
Following Information Minister George Kordahi comments, Saudi Arabia recalled its ambassador from Beirut and banned all Lebanese imports, affecting hundreds of businesses and cutting off hundreds of millions in foreign currency flows to Lebanon. Several Arab countries followed Saudi Arabia’s step.
Bouhabib will attend a meeting of Arab foreign ministers in Kuwait on Sunday, during which he will hand his Kuwaiti counterpart Sheikh Ahmed Nasser Al-Mohammed Al-Sabah official responses to the Gulf nations’ suggestions. Al-Sabah had delivered them personally to Beirut earlier this month.
“We hope to have excellent relations as in the past” with Gulf nations, Bouhabib said, adding that Lebanon had suggestions for solving problems between the two sides, but without elaborating.
The list handed over by Kuwait’s foreign minister and circulated in Lebanese media included implementing US Security Council resolution 1559, which calls for the disarmament of all militias in Lebanon. Major anti-corruption reforms should be implemented as well, all verbal or real attacks on Gulf nations should cease.
Bouhabib said Lebanon respects international resolutions, but added that time was needed for some.
Kordahi, who made his comments before taking his post, resigned in December, but the move did not lead to improved relations between the two sides.
The crisis goes deeper than Kordahi’s comments aired in late October, however. It is rooted in Saudi Arabia’s uneasiness over the rising influence of Iran in the region, including in Lebanon, once a traditional Saudi ally and recipient of financial assistance from the oil-rich kingdom.
In the weeks that followed Kordahi’s resignation, tensions between the Iran-backed Hezbollah and Saudi Arabia continued to rise.