BEIRUT, Jan 22 (Reuters) - Kuwait's foreign minister visited
Beirut on Saturday in the first trip by a senior Gulf Arab
official since a diplomatic rift last year, saying he had
delivered confidence-building proposals to Lebanon in a message
coordinated with Gulf states.
Long strained by the influence of the Iran-backed Lebanese
group Hezbollah, Lebanon's ties with Gulf Arab states were
plunged into a new crisis in October by comments from a former
Lebanese minister criticising Saudi-led forces in Yemen.
Kuwait was one of several members of the Gulf Cooperation
Council (GCC), including Saudi Arabia, that responded to George
Kordahi's remarks by expelling the Lebanese ambassador and
recalling its envoy to Beirut.
Speaking after meeting Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati,
Sheikh Ahmad Nasser Al-Mohammad Al-Sabah said ties with Beirut
had not been severed and relations were now in a phase of
He said he had delivered proposed confidence-building steps
to Mikati and the Lebanese foreign minister and "the brothers in
Lebanon should study them and know how to deal with these
"All the GCC states are sympathetic and in solidarity with
the Lebanese people ... the Kuwaiti move is a Gulf move," Sheikh
Saudi Arabia and fellow Sunni-led Gulf Arab monarchies once
spent billions of dollars in aid in Lebanon, and still provide
jobs and a haven for much of Lebanon's huge diaspora.
But the friendship has been strained for years by the
growing influence of the heavily armed Shi'ite group Hezbollah.
The diplomatic rift added to the difficulties facing Lebanon
as it struggles with a financial crisis that the World Bank has
described as one of the sharpest depressions ever recorded.
Sheikh Ahmad said the visit was "to support Lebanon and
bring Lebanon out of all that it is going through, to help it
overcome these difficulties, and to restore, God willing, the
measures to build confidence with Lebanon".
The GCC called on Lebanon in December to prevent Hezbollah
from conducting "terrorist operations", strengthen its military
and ensure that arms were limited to state institutions.
Kordahi resigned in December.
Lebanese governments have long declared an official policy
of disassociation from wars in the Middle East, even as
Hezbollah has become involved in regional conflicts, deploying
fighters to Syria to help President Bashar al-Assad.
Sheikh Ahmad said disassociation must be "in word and deed".
On Sunday, he is expected to meet President Michel Aoun and
Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, both political allies of
Aoun and Mikati have called for dialogue with Saudi Arabia
to resolve the diplomatic crisis.
(Additional reporting by Laila Bassam; Writing by Nayera
Abdallah and Tom Perry; Editing by Gareth Jones and Alex