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Lebanon: Foreign minister asks to quit after comments strain Gulf ties

Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait and Bahrain have all issued formal complaints after hearing Charbel Wehbe's comments
Lebanese Foreign Minister Charbel Wehbe speaking after presenting his resignation to President Michel Aoun at the Baabda presidential palace, east of Beirut, on 19 May 2021 (Dalati and Nohra/AFP)

Lebanon's foreign minister asked the president to be relieved of his duties on Wednesday, the presidency said, after comments he made in a television debate strained ties with Gulf allies and donors.

Charbel Wehbe, who is a minister in the caretaker government, suggested on Monday that Gulf states had supported the rise of the Islamic State group, among other disparaging comments.

Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait and Bahrain summoned Lebanon's ambassadors and issued formal complaints.

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The comments have threatened Lebanese efforts - amid its deep economic crisis - to improve ties with Sunni Muslim Gulf states, which have been reluctant to offer the kind of financial help they once did because of their frustration at the rising influence of Hezbollah.

After his altercation with a Saudi guest on Al-Hurra TV on Monday, Wehbe stormed off the set saying he would not be "insulted by a Bedouin". 

After meeting President Michel Aoun, Wehbe said he had submitted a request to step down "in light of the recent developments and the circumstances that accompanied the interview I gave to a television station".

He also met caretaker Prime Minister Hassan Diab, saying afterwards that he hoped his decision to step down would mean relations with Arab nations remained "friendly".

"I wish success to the one who will be assigned this mission for the sake of Lebanon," he said.

It was not immediately clear who would step in to take up the role as caretaker foreign minister.