US warns Iran and Saudi Arabia against using Lebanon for ‘proxy conflicts

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. (Source: AP)
US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. (Source: AP)

Rex Tillerson, the US secretary of state, warned   Iran  and Saudi Arabia  yesterday not to use Lebanon as “a venue for proxy conflicts” amid fears that their power struggle would destabilise the small country and cause fresh chaos in the region.

One week after Lebanese prime minister  Saad Hariri abruptly resigned during a trip to Saudi Arabia questions continued to mount over whether he was being effectively held prisoner in Riyadh.

The tensions over Mr Hariri’s fate and other issues prompted the United Nations secretary general to appeal for calm and warn that a fresh conflict in Lebanon would have “devastating consequences” for the Middle East.

“The United States supports the stability of Lebanon and is opposed to any actions that could threaten that stability,” Mr Tillerson said in a statement. “The United States cautions against any party, within or outside Lebanon, using Lebanon as a venue for proxy conflicts or in any manner contributing to instability in that country.”

Without naming specific countries or groups, he said all regional players must “respect the integrity and independence” of the Lebanese government and military and called Mr Hariri “a strong partner of the United States”.

His statement came amid concerns that Mr Hariri had been forced to resign by Saudi Arabia as part of its efforts to counter Iranian influence in Lebanon.

It also contrasted with tweets from Donald Trump, who said he had “great confidence” in Saudi Arabia and the leadership of its aggressive young crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman.

Mr Hariri has remained in Saudi Arabia since resigning on Saturday, and while he has met with Western diplomats he has not done any interviews nor made contact with some of his closest aides.

Many Lebanese suspect he is under house arrest  and Lebanon’s president has said he will not accept his resignation until he returns to the country to deliver it in person. Even Mr Hariri’s own political party, the Future Movement, has indicated he is being held against his will.

Emmanuel Macron, the French president, visited Riyadh briefly on Thursday and was quoted as saying that he does not believe the Lebanese PM is not under  house arrest but is concerned about being assassinated if he returns to Lebanon ”

Jean-Yves Le Drian, the French foreign minister, said he though the Lebanese politician was “free of his movements” .

France’s ambassador to Saudi Arabia met Hariri on Thursday before President Emmanuel Macron’s unscheduled visit to Riyadh to meet Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, diplomats said.

Telegraph UK , CNBC