Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati on Thursday again urged the information minister to “do what needs to be done,” an apparent appeal for him step down over an unprecedented diplomatic rift with Saudi Arabia that has threatened to destabilize the new Lebanese government and escalate the country's economic tailspin.
The spat was triggered by information minister George 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.
Prime Minister Mikati cannot dismiss the minister without approval of at least two-thirds of the Cabinet and Lebanon's president, however.
Beirut-based TV station al-Mayadeen quoted Kordahi saying that he will not 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.
Mikati said he had agreed with Lebanese President Michel Aoun on a way out of the crisis that is threatening to split his government, sworn in less than two months ago. He said a decision by Kordahi to step down would be a “priority and the natural road map to get out of the crisis,” and preserve relations with the Gulf.
“The country can’t be managed with the language of challenge and obstinacy. We must unite behind one word to work on saving our country,” he said in a message that appears to be directed mostly at his government partners from the Iran-allied Hezbollah.
But in a sign that there was no letting up to the crisis, Hezbollah on Thursday said that it rejects and condemns what it called “foreign dictation to the way the government works” - indirectly reiterating its continued support for Kordahi.
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The deputy leader of Hezbollah Naim Qassim also said that it was Saudi Arabia that must apologize to Lebanon for its “unjustified attack."
Lebanon had sought French and U.S. mediation with Saudi Arabia.
Gulf Arab countries have joined Saudi Arabia in pulling out their diplomats from Lebanon, deepening the diplomatic spat.
Riyadh has withdrawn its ambassador from Beirut and asked the Lebanese envoy to leave the kingdom.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 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. The Cabinet has not been able to convene for weeks, mostly over a separate crisis, triggered when Hezbollah protested the course of the investigation into the Beirut Port explosion last year.