Lebanon FM quits over Saudi slur

by AFP

BEIRUT – Lebanon’s foreign minister asked to step down Wednesday after comments he made irked Saudi Arabia, as cash-strapped Beirut scrambled to avoid further souring ties with the wealthy Gulf states.

Charbel Wehbe (picture) said in a televised debate on Monday that the Islamic State group’s rise in the region had been engineered by Gulf states, prompting Lebanese ambassadors in several countries to be summoned.

Lebanon’s leaders have since tried to put out the fire and the 67-year-old announced in a brief statement after meeting President Michel Aoun that he had asked “to be relieved of his duties.”

The Gulf’s relations with Lebanon have become frostier over the rising political influence of the Shiite group Hezbollah but Beirut is seeking fresh financial support from its former allies.

Lebanon defaulted on its debt last year, is witnessing unprecedented poverty and cannot guarantee power supply past the month of June.

After his altercation with a Saudi guest on Al-Hurra TV on Monday, Wehbe stormed off the set saying he would not be “insulted by a Bedouin”.

His exit will likely go down as the most remarkable moment of a tenure that saw him remain an active foreign minister only for seven days.

The 282 other days were spent as part of a caretaker government that resigned en masse following a devastating explosion in Beirut port last August.