Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 22 October 2019

Lebanon-Saudi meeting to be held next week

The Lebanese-Saudi high joint committee will likely draft trade agreements

Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri meets Saudi royal court envoy Nizar Al Aloula at the government palace in Beirut on February 13, 2019. Dalati Nohra via AP
Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri meets Saudi royal court envoy Nizar Al Aloula at the government palace in Beirut on February 13, 2019. Dalati Nohra via AP

Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri chaired a preparatory meeting ahead of a ministerial visit to Saudi Arabia next week where his government will participate in the next round of meetings in the Lebanese-Saudi high joint committee.

During the meeting, Mr Hariri told reporters that his country’s relationship with Saudi Arabia is integral to the prosperity of both countries as they continue to improve cooperation on key regional and economic issues.

Mr Hariri’s government representatives will travel to Saudi Arabia on a two-day visit beginning on March 10. The meeting will see Lebanese officials work with the Saudi leadership to draft agreements “needed to strengthen and deepen the relations between Lebanon and Saudi Arabia”.

Mr Hariri struggled to balance competing interests in forming a unity government to work towards fighting rampant corruption and an ailing economy. To add to Lebanon's woes, Beirut fears the inclusion of Hezbollah or Hezbollah-affiliated politicians in the government could undermine their growing relationship with Gulf countries and even trigger Washington into imposing sanctions against Lebanon.

A recent move by the UK to designate Hezbollah as a terrorist entity was welcomed by Saudi Arabia, which views the militant group’s backers, Iran, as a key threat to regional stability.

Hezbollah functions out of Lebanon with the support of many Shiite Lebanese citizens. Their activity and political involvement place Mr Hariri in a difficult situation as he looks to draw closer ties with Arabian Gulf countries.

Saudi Arabia, along with its Gulf allies, are exerting pressure on sanction-struck Iran to make Tehran roll back what the Saudi leadership considers to be interference in Arab affairs. They view Iranian-backed sub-state actors, such as Hezbollah and the Yemeni Houthis, as the main challenge to stabilising the region.

A recent thaw in relations between Saudi Arabia and Lebanon has seen Riyadh lift the travel ban on Saudi citizens going to Lebanon – providing a much-needed source of income for Mr Hariri’s administration, with Gulf tourists once being the biggest spenders in Lebanon. The UAE and Bahrain have not yet lifted their travel ban against the country.

Mr Hariri has downplayed the tenuous relationship with Hezbollah, recently waving away US warnings that the newly appointed health minister to Lebanon is close to Hezbollah.

He continues to try and unite Lebanon under a nationalist banner, saying “a minister is a minister for all of Lebanon and all the Lebanese people”.

The Saudi-Lebanese high joint committee met in June to discuss trade deals and improvements in economic cooperation.

Last month, Saudi Arabia’s finance minister vowed to provide full support to Lebanon.

Updated: March 7, 2019 12:18 PM

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