Lebanon: Aoun meets Kuwait emir on first Gulf trip since Hariri crisis

The two leaders stress importance of Arab unity ahead of Arab League summit in Riyadh

Lebanese President Michel Aoun led a delegation to Kuwait on Tuesday, his government’s first visit to the Gulf since the shock resignation and return of the prime minister late last year.

The “positive” visit, with talks on bilateral issues, was “an achievement in itself,” said Lebanon’s Minister of State for Administrative Reform Inaya Ezzeddine, speaking at a reception for the Lebanese community in Kuwait City.

“The Emir of Kuwait expressed his readiness during the bilateral talks to support Lebanon in all files, and for Kuwait to back Lebanon in the region,” she said.

The delegation met with the Kuwaiti Fund for Arab Economic Development, which Ezzeddine said she hoped would bear fruit for Lebanon’s revitalisation plans.

Kuwait has increasingly emerged as a regional force of moderation, taking on mediation of the Gulf political crisis between Qatar and a Saudi-led bloc.

The Aoun visit follows a tense standoff between Beirut and Riyadh over the resignation of Prime Minister Saad Hariri from Riyadh in November.

Hariri’s surprise announcement sent tremors through Lebanon and the region. Aoun, along with Western diplomats, had accused Saudi of forcing Hariri to resign and holding him hostage.

The crisis was defused when French President Emmanuel Macron invited Hariri for talks in Paris, after which the prime minister returned home to a hero’s welcome.

Aoun held bilateral talks with Kuwait’s Emir Jaber al-Ahmad al-Sabah on Tuesday. The two heads of state stressed the importance of regional unity, saying that the upcoming Arab League summit in Riyadh in March should be an “opportunity to revive Arab solidarity,” Lebanon’s official National News Agency, reported.

The Gulf feud spoiled a Gulf Cooperation Council summit in Kuwait late last year, with the meeting collapsing within hours as Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates announced their own bilateral pact.

Aoun thanked Kuwait for its support and invited the Kuwaiti business community to invest in Lebanon, which he said is enjoying peace and stability after the Lebanese army defeated Islamic State (IS) group terrorists at the Syrian border, according to a statement by the Lebanese presidency.

Lebanon has largely been spared the violence from the destructive civil war in neighbouring Syria but is struggling to cope with an influx of close to 2 million refugees, according to Aoun.