Saudi Arabia has summoned the Lebanese ambassador to protest against “insulting” remarks by Lebanon’s Foreign Minister Charbel Wehbe, who made critical comments about the Gulf states.
In a television interview on Monday, Wehbe appeared to blame Gulf nations for the rise of the ISIL (ISIS) armed group in the Levant region.
“Those countries of love, friendship and fraternity, they brought us Islamic State,” he told Alhurra, without naming the countries.
Wehbe made the comment during a verbal duel with a Saudi guest on the show, who blamed Lebanon’s President Michel Aoun for “handing over” his country to the Lebanese Shia movement, Hezbollah, which is backed by Riyadh’s rival Tehran.
The Saudi foreign ministry strongly condemned Wehbe’s “insulting” remarks, saying they were “inconsistent with the simplest diplomatic norms”.
The ministry “summoned the Lebanese ambassador to express the kingdom’s rejection and denunciation” of his comments, said the statement released by the official Saudi Press Agency.
The ambassador was handed an official “letter of protest”, the statement added.
The UAE’s foreign ministry also summoned the Lebanese ambassador to the country and handed him an official protest note.
“The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation has strongly decried the derogatory and racist statements made by caretaker Lebanese Foreign Minister, Charbel Wehbe, against the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and other GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council) states,” UAE state news agency (WAM) reported on Tuesday.
Wehbe apologised on Tuesday, saying he did not mean to offend “brotherly Arab countries”.
In a separate statement, Nayef al-Hajraf, secretary-general of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), demanded a formal apology from Wehbe to Gulf states for his “unacceptable” remarks.
Faced with a crippling economic crisis, Lebanon’s government also moved swiftly to distance itself from the remarks that angered Riyadh, once a key financial backer of Beirut.
Aoun said the comments were Wehbe’s “personal opinion” and did not reflect the position of the state, as he lauded the “brotherly” ties with Saudi Arabia and the Gulf.
Lebanon’s outgoing Prime Minister Hassan Diab said he had sought an explanation from Wehbe, adding that his country was keen to maintain the “best relations” with Saudi Arabia and the Gulf.
Saad Hariri, the prime minister-designate who owes much of his family fortune to Saudi backing, also criticised Wehbe, saying his remarks were “not in accordance with diplomatic norms”.
Last month, Saudi Arabia announced it was suspending fruit and vegetable imports from Lebanon, saying shipments were being used for drug smuggling and accusing Beirut of inaction.
The decision was a blow to Lebanon, which is facing its worst economic crisis since the 1975-1990 civil war.