Tillerson warns against using Lebanon for 'proxy conflicts'

 10 Nov 2017 - 20:19

Tillerson warns against using Lebanon for 'proxy conflicts'
U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson (L) arrives to listen to U.P.resident Donald Trump speak on the final day of the APEC CEO Summit, part of the broader Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) leaders' summit, in Danang, Vietnam, November 10, 2017. Reuters/Anthony Wallace

AFP

Washington:  US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson warned other countries Friday against using Lebanon for "proxy conflicts" following a crisis triggered by its prime minister's resignation.

Tillerson also called the premier, Saad Hariri, who announced his resignation last Saturday from Saudi Arabia, as a "strong partner" of the United States.

"The United States cautions against any party, within or outside Lebanon, using Lebanon as a venue for proxy conflicts or in any manner contributing to instability in that country," Tillerson said in a statement.

Hariri's resignation came as a shock. He accused Hezbollah, the powerful Shiite movement that is part of his government but also close to Iran, of controlling Lebanon.

Many observers saw his stepping down as being ordered by Saudi Arabia, Iran's big rival in the region.

Earlier Friday, while traveling in Asia, Tillerson told reporters he had received assurances from the Saudis that Hariri himself had decided to resign.

Tillerson also said he had no indication that Hariri was being held against his will in the oil-rich kingdom.

Concern over stability

But he also expressed concern over what effect the resignation might have on the stability of the Lebanese government, which is composed of Christians and both Shiite and Sunni Muslims.

Tillerson said this structure had been able to maintain some degree of calm and peace in Lebanon, and that if this balance of powers were disrupted, things might change.

"The United States strongly supports the sovereignty and independence of the Republic of Lebanon and of its political institutions" and opposes "any actions that could threaten that stability," Tillerson's statement on Friday reads.

Lebanon's powerful Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah on Friday accused Saudi Arabia of detaining Hariri and of asking the Shiite movement's archfoe Israel to launch strikes on Lebanon.

Hezbollah is a fierce critic of Saudi Arabia.

In a message that seemed aimed mainly at Iran and Hezbollah, Tillerson's statement said: "There is no legitimate place or role in Lebanon for any foreign forces, militias or armed elements other than the legitimate security forces of the Lebanese state -- which must be recognized as the sole authority for security in Lebanon."

Saudi purge

Washington has expressed support in recent days for King Salman of Saudi Arabia and Crown Prince Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, although Tillerson said Friday that the latter's detention of more than 200 princes, ministers and businessmen in a crackdown on corruption "raises a few concerns" about how they will be dealt with down the road.

Tillerson said he believed the mass arrests ordered by a new anti-corruption commission headed by Prince Mohammed were "well intended."

As tensions rise between the Saudis and Iran over Lebanon but also Yemen, where the two big powers back opposing warring sides, Tillerson once again blamed Iran, calling it a destabilizing force. He added that he did not feel Saudi Arabia was a destabilizing force in force in the region.

Hariri's situation was not completely clear. But calls mounted, including from his Lebanese political rivals, for Saudi Arabia to guarantee the prime minister's freedom of movement.

Hariri's resignation coincided with a sweeping purge among the Saudi kingdom's elite, ostensibly over embezzlement accusations.

Hariri, who was born in Saudi Arabia, did not say when he would return to Lebanon, where President Michel Aoun has yet to formally accept his resignation.