BEIRUT (Reuters) – A senior Arab League official held talks in Lebanon on Monday in a bid to ease a rift with Saudi Arabia over criticism of its role in the Yemen war, saying the crisis could have been defused if the minister who made the comments had resigned.
Arab League Assistant Secretary General Hossam Zaki met Lebanon’s president, prime minister and parliament speaker during his visit. President Michel Aoun said he welcomed any Arab League initiative to restore ties with Saudi Arabia.
Saudi Arabia has expelled the Lebanese ambassador, recalled its envoy to Beirut and banned imports from Lebanon in response to the comments by George Kordahi, who sided with the Iran-aligned Houthis in Yemen during an interview broadcast two weeks ago and said Yemen was being subjected to foreign aggression.
Bahrain and Kuwait took similar steps, while the United Arab Emirates withdrew all its diplomatic staff.
Kordahi, who says the interview was recorded before he became information minister, has so far refused to quit.
Zaki said the matter of Kordahi’s resignation had been discussed in his meetings.
Saudi ties with Lebanon have been strained for years because of the influential role played in Beirut by the heavily armed, Iran-backed group Hezbollah. Kordahi was named a minister by one of its close allies, the Christian politician Suleiman Frangieh.
Zaki said he had a “candid and positive” meeting with Aoun and that he had found an entry point to resolving the crisis but the problem between the countries was “not simple”.
A source told Reuters that Zaki had proposed Kordahi resign as a first step.
(Reporting by Yasmin Hussein, Maha El Dahan and Laila Bassam in Beirut; Writing by Maha El Dahan and Tom Perry; Editing by Emelia Sithole-Matarise and Alex Richardson)