World powers are pushing Saudi Arabia and Iran to stop interfering in Lebanon’s politics while urging Iranian ally Hizballah to rein in its military activities in neighboring states.
The International Lebanon Support Group, a body that includes the five permanent members of the UN Security Council — Britain, China, France, Russia, and the United States — met in Paris on December 8 with Lebanese Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri in an effort to help him shore up the nation’s shaky governing coalition.
Hariri set off a crisis in the nation last month when he announced he was resigning while on a trip to Saudi Arabia, saying he feared assassination and laying the blame on Iran and Hizballah.
Hariri charged that Hizballah, which is member of the country’s ruling coalition, has been unwilling to abide by the country’s policy of neutrality in regional conflicts. Hizballah and Iran have for years backed Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in his civil war with Sunni rebels.
After international pressure and negotiations between Lebanon’s political factions, Hariri withdrew his resignation and on December 5 his coalition government reaffirmed its policy of staying out of conflicts in Arab states.
The world powers at the Paris meeting, which included Germany, Italy, and Egypt, sought to bolster the Lebanese government’s renewed resolve with a warning to Saudi Arabia and Iran not to meddle in the small Mediterranean nation’s affairs.
While predominantly Shi’ite Iran has backed Hizballah and its Shi’ite militias in Lebanon and Syria, Hariri, who is a Sunni Muslim, has received support from Saudi Arabia and other Sunni Arab nations that fear Iran’s growing power in the region.
“It is essential that all of the parties in Lebanon and regional actors respect the cardinal principle of non-interference” in other countries, said French President Emmanuel Macron, who opened the meeting and for weeks has worked to resolve the Lebanon crisis along with other conflicts in the region.
“Lebanon’s stability is not only crucial for its inhabitants but for the entire region,” Macron said, praising the small multi-faith country as a model of pluralism in the Middle East.
French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said world powers had endorsed Lebanon’s policy of “disassociation” from regional conflicts, and he said that it should “apply to everyone — inside and outside” the country.
Referring specifically to both Iran and Saudi Arabia, Le Drian urged all sides not to “import regional tensions” into Lebanon.
Hariri said that any breach of the policy of non-interference would drag Lebanon back into the “danger zone.”
“The disassociation policy is in the overarching interest of Lebanon,” he said.
In a statement directed at Hizballah, the world powers in a communique said they “call upon all Lebanese parties to implement this tangible policy of disassociation from and non-interference in external conflicts, as an important priority.”
The Lebanese policy of “dissociation” was declared in 2012 to keep the deeply divided state out of regional conflicts such as the civil war in neighboring Syria. It nevertheless has not deterred Hizballah from getting deeply involved in the Syrian war.
Another threat to the policy came up on December 7, when Hizballah announced it was backing calls for a new Palestinian uprising in neighboring Israel in reaction to U.S. President Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
Hariri said he also opposes Trump’s move and said it “creates a new challenge to regional security.”
“The stability of Lebanon may seem like a small miracle given the many conflicts that destabilize the region,” Hariri said.
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