Saudi envoy urges Lebanon politicians to form new government quickly

Lebanon's President Michel Aoun meets with Saudi Ambassador to Lebanon Walid bin Abdullah Bukhari at the presidential palace in Baabda, Lebanon March 23, 2021. Dalati Nohra/Handout via REUTERS

BEIRUT (Reuters) -Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to Beirut urged Lebanese political parties on Tuesday to quickly agree a new government to pull the country from financial crisis after months of political wrangling.

A standoff between President Michel Aoun and Saad al-Hariri, who was designated as prime minister last October, has delayed a deal on a new government as Lebanon’s worst crisis in decades spirals.

“I stressed the need to put the higher national interest first to launch drastic reforms that can restore the international community’s confidence in Lebanon,” Saudi ambassador Walid Bukhari said after meeting Aoun in his first visit to the presidential palace since 2019.

Foreign donors have said they will not bail out the state, which is drowning in debt, unless Lebanese politicians tackle graft and waste - the root causes of the collapse.

Gulf Arab monarchies that once came to Lebanon’s rescue have kept their distance, alarmed by the expanding role of the Hezbollah movement, which is backed by their arch-rival, Iran.

Lebanon’s political deadlock intensified this week in a public war of words between Aoun and Hariri, a three-time premier traditionally aligned with the Gulf monarchies.

After the Tuesday meeting with Aoun, who is a political ally of Hezbollah, the Saudi envoy said the kindgom stood by Lebanon and its sovereignty.

He also reiterated the importance of a U.N. resolution that called for all militias in Lebanon to disarm, in a referrence to Hezbollah’s arsenal.

Reporting by Ellen Francis and Laila Bassam; Editing by Gareth Jones