Prime Minister Najib Miqati on Thursday again urged Information Minister George Kordahi to step down over an unprecedented diplomatic rift with Saudi Arabia, saying his resignation would be “a priority.”
“I reiterate my call for the information minister to put national interest first,” Miqati said in a speech from the Grand Serail, shortly after he met in Baabda with President Michel Aoun.
“The information minister’s personal stances have plunged Lebanon into the dangerous position of being boycotted by the Gulf countries,” he said.
The rift has threatened to destabilize the new government of Miqati, sworn in less than two months ago, and escalate Lebanon’s economic tailspin.
Miqati 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 — Hizbullah and its allies — who have rejected calls that Kordahi resign.
“We’re determined to address the file of the relation with Saudi Arabi and the Gulf countries according to proper norms and we won’t leave this file to be subject to political bickering and wrangling,” Miqati said.
“The government is the normal place for discussing files, away from dictations, and no Lebanese party can control the country on its own,” he added, noting that “mistaken are those who think that obstruction and political escalation are the solution.”
“Mistaken are those who consider that they can remove Lebanon from its Arab environment, especially from its ties with Saudi Arabia,” Miqati stressed.
“Mistaken are those who think that they can impose their opinion through the power of obstruction or verbal escalation,” he added. “Mistaken are those who think that they can stage a coup against the constitution and return the country to internal strife and divisions,” the premier went on to say.
Miqati also lamented that the government “has been paralyzed from the inside,” criticizing “the approach of unilateralism and obstruction” inside Cabinet.
He said that some parties tried to “push the government to interfere in a judicial matter that it has nothing to do with,” as he called for “rectifying the excesses of the investigative judge (into the Beirut port blast case), especially as to the issue of the trial of presidents and ministers.”
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 Miqati, 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.”
He said that all ministers “must abide by ministerial solidarity and the ministerial statement.”
As for the next steps, Miqati said: “Decisive meetings are ahead of us before taking a decisive stance on every matter that we are determined to fully address and everyone must help us in this aspired rescue action.”
“Let us show unity to protect the Lebanese and the country of the cedars and let us all shun bickering,” he urged.
Lebanon has sought French and U.S. mediation with Saudi Arabia.
Miqati’s message appears to be directed mostly at his government partners from the Iran-allied Hizbullah. Some Hizbullah-allied ministers have threatened a walkout if Kordahi goes. Kordahi was named to the government by the Marada Movement, a Hizbullah-allied party. Hizbullah members have called the Saudi campaign “extortion.”
The row has tested Miqati’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.