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Saudi Arabia sees no purpose in engaging Lebanon at this time, says foreign minister

DUBAI, Nov 14 (Reuters) – Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister said the kingdom does not plan to engage with the Lebanese government at this time in a deepening rift, reiterating a call on the political class to end the “domination” of the Iran-allied Hezbollah movement.

Lebanon is facing its worst diplomatic crisis yet with Gulf states, spurred by a minister’s critical comments about the Saudi-led intervention in Yemen that prompted Riyadh to expel Lebanon’s ambassador, recall its own envoy and ban all imports from Lebanon.

“We see no useful purpose of engaging with the Lebanese government at this point in time,” Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan al-Saud told France 24 television in an interview aired on Saturday.

“We think that the political class needs to step up and take the necessary actions to liberate Lebanon from the domination of Hezbollah, and through Hezbollah, Iran.”

Saudi Arabia was angered by an interview in which Lebanon’s newly appointed information minister George Kordahi appeared to side with Yemen’s Iran-aligned Houthis and said Yemen was being subjected to external aggression.

Kordahi said the interview was recorded before he became a minister and has refused to apologize or step down.

Hezbollah’s leader last week described Riyadh’s reaction to comments by information minister George Kordahi as “exaggerated” and accused Saudi Arabia of seeking a civil war in Lebanon.

Riyadh, long locked in a rivalry for regional influence with foe Iran, has said its actions were driven not just by Kordahi’s comments, made before the cabinet formation, but rather its objection to the growing heft of Hezbollah in Lebanese politics.

Gulf states were traditional aid donors to Lebanon but, dismayed by Hezbollah’s expanding power, have been loathe to help rescue Lebanon from a devastating economic crisis, rooted in decades of corruption and mismanagement.

Writing by Ghaida Ghantous; Editing by Alex Richardson

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