Aloula-Zarif Tussle: Lebanon Will Not Be Abandoned to Iran

Saturday, 16 February, 2019 - 10:30
Beirut - Thaer Abbas

Lebanon witnessed a flurry of diplomatic activity in recent days with Saudi royal court envoy Nizar al-Aloula and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif paying visits and the week being capped with the government earning parliament’s vote of confidence.

During a dinner Wednesday thrown by the Saudi embassy in Beirut in honor of Aloula, American Ambassador to Lebanon Elizabeth Richard was heard praising his “very important” visit. She also said Washington was looking forward to cooperating with Riyadh soon in order to support Lebanon.

The dinner had brought together the majority of Lebanese leaderships, except Hezbollah.

Richard’s remarks reflected Arab and international attention to Aloula’s trip, which will be followed up with meetings between Saudi Ambassador to Lebanon, Walid al-Bukhari, with western diplomats in Beirut.

He is scheduled to hold talks on Monday with the British and United Arab Emirates’ ambassador to Lebanon on a number of files at hand now that the government has been formed after eight months of political wrangling.

This western-Arab interest is set to increase in the coming weeks, revealed Arab diplomatic sources.

It seems that officials want to judge the government on its actions, not its words, they told Asharq Al-Awsat, meaning that the cabinet lineup and policy statement were just side issues.

Aloula had started his trip by remarking: “Lebanon has the potential to play a pioneering role in the region. This potential must be invested primarily in the Lebanese people’s interest.”

This was among a number of messages the envoy sought to deliver to officials the most foremost of which was Saudi Arabia and the Arab world’s desire to help Lebanon overcome its difficulties and bolster its institutions.

The second message was that Saudi Arabia stands at an equal distance from all Lebanese and that it prefers to communicate with the country through its official channels. This is why the announcement that Riyadh was lifting its travel ban off Lebanon was made by Bukhari at the Grand Serail following a meeting with Prime Minister Saad Hariri. The ambassador made sure in his announcement to relay to Lebanese parliament Speaker Nabih Berri the regards of Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

The third message focuses on the Saudi-sponsored Taif Accord. The Kingdom had organized Thursday a special forum on the accord that helped end Lebanon’s 1975-90 civil war. The event was attended by Aloula and Hariri..

The fourth message was Aloula extending his trip to Thursday in order to take part in the commemoration of the 2005 assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. He stressed on the occasion Saudi Arabia’s “commitment to the Special Tribunal for Lebanon and its rejection of political assassinations.”

The most important message was that Lebanon will not be abandoned to the Iranians and that its Arab and western friends want the best for the country.

Aloula’s visit came quick off the heels of a two-day trip kicked off my Zarif on Sunday, leaving the Lebanese to imagine the diplomatic tussle that had taken place between them in their country.

A prominent Lebanese officials noted to Asharq Al-Awsat the “vast contrast” between those who offered Lebanon weapons, meaning Zarif, and those who offered it peace and reform, meaning Aloula.

Prior to his arrival in Beirut, numerous media reports had claimed that Tehran was seeking to propose to the Lebanese military a missile defense system deal that would “help protect it against Israeli violations.”

Zarif had kicked off his visit by holding talks with Iran’s allies in Lebanon during a meeting that also included Palestinian and Lebanese factions that fall under the so-called “resistance front.” He then met with Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah before embarking on protocol meetings with the president, speaker and prime minister.

The surprise came when the minister failed to seriously address the armament proposal to any of the officials. He instead said that Tehran was “ready to help Lebanon,” but fell short of elaborating, explaining that his country had to contend with international sanctions.

In contrast, Aloula’s kicked off his visit through official channels, meeting with the president, speaker and then the premier.

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