x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Saudis urged to keep hand in Lebanese mediation

Prince Saud al Faisal, the Saudi foreign minister, said earlier this month that Riyadh had abandoned its mediation efforts in Lebanon, after the failure of attempts to find a solution by King Abdullah and Syrian President Bashar Assad.

Najib Miqati, the Lebanese prime minister designate, encouraged Saudi Arabia to keep up its mediation between his country's deeply divided political camps, in an interview broadcast yesterday.

"Saudi Arabia cannot pull its hand away from Lebanon," said Mr Miqati, who himself has warm ties with both Damascus and Riyadh, two key power brokers in Beirut, told the Dubai-based and Saudi-owned satellite television station Al Arabiya.

Mr Miqati likened Lebanon to a stray child and Saudi Arabia as its angry but devoted parent. "Do not believe that Saudi Arabia could pull its hand away from Lebanon," he said.

Prince Saud al Faisal, the Saudi foreign minister, said earlier this month that Riyadh had abandoned its mediation efforts in Lebanon, after the failure of attempts to find a solution by King Abdullah and Syrian President Bashar Assad.

"When that did not happen, the custodian of the two holy mosques [the king] said he was pulling his hand out," the foreign minister said.

Mr Miqati said he would form a government of technocrats and political leaders, after the refusal of the camp of the outgoing premier Saad Hariri, who had strong backing from Riyadh and the West, to join the new administration.

He called on the US secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, to "judge" the new Lebanese government only "after you see what decisions it will take".

Mrs Clinton has warned that a new government in Lebanon under the control of the militant movement Hizbollah would "clearly have an impact" on ties between Beirut and Washington.

The billionaire businessman said he himself had initiated efforts to step in as prime minister after the fall of Mr Hariri's government due to a walkout by the Shiite militant group Hizbollah and its supporters.

"I took the decision, and began my calls, which at times were easy and others difficult. I talked to the [political] blocs and asked for support," Mr Miqati, whom critics have branded the Hizbollah premier, told Al Arabiya.

Hizbollah, which is backed by Damascus and Tehran, toppled Mr Hariri's cabinet because of a dispute over a UN-backed probe into the 2005 murder of the ex-premier Rafiq Hariri, Saad's father.

On Thursday, Hariri's camp asked for a commitment from Mr Miqati that he would not disavow the Netherlands-based court, which is expected to indict senior Hizbollah members.

But Mr Miqati reiterated in the interview with Al Arabiya that dialogue was the only way to resolve differences over the UN probe and ruled out putting anything in writing.

"I did not make any commitments to Hizbollah and I will not make any commitments to you," he said, addressing Mr Hariri's coalition. "This is a disputed issue and any disputed issue must be the subject of dialogue."

* Agence France-Presse