Abdallah Bou says Lebanon will guarantee that the country will not be used as a “launching pad” to violate the interests of Arab countries.
Lebanon will not “deliver” Hezbollah’s weapons, the country’s foreign minister has said ahead of a meeting with Gulf Arab counterparts to mend ties.
Saudi Arabia and its allies suspended diplomatic ties with Lebanon after comments by then-information minister George Kordahi aired that criticized Riyadh’s military intervention in Yemen. Kordahi, a Hezbollah ally, resigned in December.
“I am not going (to Kuwait) to hand over the weapons of Hezbollah. I am not going to put an end to the existence of Hezbollah, it is out of the question in Lebanon. We are going to dialogue,” Lebanese Foreign Minister Abdallah Bou Habib told Al Jazeera, referring to a meeting aimed at restoring ties between Beirut and Arab Gulf states.
In a nod to Gulf concerns, Lebanon will however say the country will not be ‘a launching pad for activities that violate Arab countries’, sources familiar with draft government letter responding to conditions say Gulf for improving relations, Reuters reported.
Lebanon must deliver its response on Saturday at a meeting in Kuwait to the conditions for the thawing of relations, which have suffered from the rise in power of the armed group Hezbollah, a close ally of Iran, in Beirut and in the region.
Hezbollah backs Iran in its regional struggle for influence with US-allied Gulf Arab states, which say the group has aided Iran-aligned Houthis in Yemen.
The war in Yemen, which aims to restore the internationally recognized government of President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, has led to what the UN has called the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.
Founded by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards in 1982, Hezbollah has a powerful militia. Hezbollah fighters have supported pro-Iranian allies in the region, including Syria.
The group and its allies also wield major influence over Lebanese state policy.
The conditions handed over to Beirut on January 22 by Kuwaiti Foreign Minister Sheikh Ahmad Nasser al-Mohammad al-Sabah include setting a timetable for the implementation of UN Security Council resolutions, among including Resolution 1559 which was adopted in 2004 and calls for the disarmament of non-state militias in Lebanon.
A draft government response seen by Reuters dodges the question, expressing Lebanon’s respect for UN resolutions “to ensure civil peace and national stability”.
But it does not mention any specific UN resolutions or measures to implement them.
Bou Habib told Al Jazeera that implementing Resolution 1559, which would require the disarmament of Hezbollah, “will take time”.
The Gulf divide has added to the difficulties facing Lebanon as it grapples with a financial crisis that the World Bank has described as one of the deepest depressions on record.
The crisis is rooted in Saudi Arabia’s unease over Iran’s growing influence in the region, including in Lebanon, once a traditional Saudi ally and recipient of financial aid from the oil-rich kingdom.
In early January, the leader of the Shiite Hezbollah movement, Hassan Nasrallah, launched a verbal attack on the kingdom, accusing Riyadh of spreading “extremist Islamist ideology”.
The visit to Beirut last week by the Kuwaiti foreign minister was the first since the breakup. He said Lebanon should not be a platform for hostile acts or words towards Arab Gulf states, and that members of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) were sympathetic to the Lebanese people.
In the draft letter seen by Reuters, Lebanon “verbally and effectively” commits to a policy of disassociating from regional conflicts – a policy adopted by successive governments even as Hezbollah has deployed fighters to Syria.
It also pledges to strengthen the measures taken by Lebanon in cooperation with other Arab States to prevent drug trafficking to the Arab States of the Gulf.
Opponents of Hezbollah accuse him of links with regional drug trafficking, which he denies. In December, the GCC called on Lebanon to tighten border controls and take steps to deter drug trafficking via exports to Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states.