Lebanon's foreign minister asks to quit after comments strained Gulf ties


Charbel Wehbe, Lebanon's caretaker foreign minister, talks at the presidential palace in Baabda, Lebanon, May 19, 2021. Dalati Nohra/Handout via REUTERS

BEIRUT (Reuters) -Lebanon's foreign minister asked the president to be relieved of his duties on Wednesday, the presidency said, after his comments in a television interview strained ties with traditional Gulf Arab allies and donors.

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

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

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, a Lebanese group backed by Shi'ite Iran.

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 after that discussion 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.

(Reporting by Maha El Dahan; Writing by Edmund Blair; Editing by Angus MacSwan)

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