Saudi, Lebanon diplomats caught in diplomatic tussle

Walid al-Yaaqoub, the new Saudi ambassador to Lebanon
Walid al-Yaaqoubi, the new Saudi ambassador to Lebanon

Lebanon’s ambassador to Saudi Arabia and his Saudi counterpart are caught in what appears to be a diplomatic tussle over representation, with each country delaying accreditation of the other’s diplomat, though both were named months ago.

The delay highlights tension between Saudi Arabia and Lebanon following the bizarre, now-reversed resignation of Prime Minister Saad Hariri from Riyadh.

A Lebanese diplomat said Wednesday the issue will be “resolved soon.” The diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity according to regulations, didn’t elaborate.

“Diplomatic procedures will be followed,” the diplomat said. “We are committed to positive and good relations with Saudi Arabia.”

Mohammad Abd El Sattar Mohammad Absi, the new Lebanese ambassador to saudi Arabia
Mohammad Abd El Sattar Mohammad Eassa, the new Lebanese ambassador to Saudi Arabia
Mohammad Abd El Sattar Mohammad Eassa, the new Lebanese ambassador to Saudi Arabia
Mohammad Abd El Sattar Mohammad Eassa, the new Lebanese ambassador to Saudi Arabia

The issue came up in the Cabinet’s last meeting of the year Tuesday. Government official Pierre Abi Assi told reporters following the meeting that Hariri is “keen on finding the appropriate resolution as soon as possible.”

Lebanon’s ambassador to Saudi Arabia, a member of Hariri’s political party, was named to the post in late July but remains unaccredited in Saudi Arabia. The outgoing ambassador remains in the post on acting capacity.

Saudi Arabia named its ambassador in September. Ambassador Walid al-Yaacoubi arrived in Lebanon in November, but still has not been sworn in by the president and the foreign minister, as customary.

There was no immediate comment from Saudi officials.

Lebanon was thrown into a political crisis after the Nov. 4 Hariri resignation which he delivered in a televised statement read from the Saudi capital, Riyadh. Hariri has since withdrawn his resignation and returned home nearly three weeks later.

The resignation was widely perceived as Saudi-orchestrated, and part of the kingdom’s high-stakes rivalry with Iran. Iran is ally and backer of Lebanon’s powerful Hezbollah, which is a partner in the Hariri government. The resignation was viewed as an attempt to break up that unity government and pull the rug from under Iran’s ally and destabilize the country.

Domestic support for Hariri and international mediation by France and the U.S. helped reverse the resignation. Saudi officials, however, maintained their vocal criticism of Hezbollah. It is not yet clear what the Saudi policy is for Lebanon.

The Associated Press