Lebanese officials from across the political spectrum expressed their support over the weekend for Kuwait and its emir after a pro-Hezbollah journalist stirred controversy over the emir’s recent visit to the United States.
Kuwaiti Emir Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah met Sept. 5 with U.S. President Donald Trump.
The two were slated to discuss trade, as well as developments in the region regarding Syria, Yemen and Qatar, according to a statement from the White House.
However, in a Sept. 13 interview on Hezbollah-affiliated news channel Al-Manar, journalist Salem Zahran alleged that the emir had traveled to Washington on a “medical visit,” and that only after he arrived did Trump call him in for a meeting. Zahran’s claims came despite that fact that days ahead of the meeting, it had been announced that the emir would travel to the U.S. to hold talks with Trump.
In his report, Zahran claimed that Trump had asked Sabah to cancel various contracts that Kuwait had with Chinese companies – worth $11 billion – and sign on to the same projects with U.S. companies, for contracts valued at $14 billion.
Zahran also alleged that Trump had asked the emir to pay $50 million to an American law firm to handle the cancellation of the Chinese contracts. He went on to suggest that the emir had given in to American pressure. Zahran’s comments incited controversy among and condemnation from Lebanese and Kuwaiti officials alike.
President Michel Aoun called the Kuwaiti emir Sunday, according to a statement from the president’s office. “Aoun underscored the strong brotherly relationship ... and praised the emir’s supportive positions of Lebanon in all circumstances the country has passed through,” the statement said. “The two agreed that nothing can affect the soundness of the relationship.”
In a statement published Saturday by Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri’s office after Hariri had met with Kuwaiti Ambassador to Lebanon Abdelaal al-Qenaei, the premier said Zahran’s report did not represent the public opinion in Lebanon, which values strong ties with Kuwait and other Arab countries.
Lebanese State Prosecutor Samir Hammoud called for an investigation into the content of the interview, and for any necessary legal action to be taken.
Speaker Nabih Berri, who heads the Hezbollah-allied Amal Movement, said in a statement Saturday that any “insult to Kuwait and its emir was rejected” and that no one would be allowed to damage the relationship between the two countries.
Sunday, the Lebanese Foreign Ministry called on the Lebanese people not to interfere in the affairs of states that stand alongside Lebanon and saluted Kuwait and its people.
Qenaei also made a statement after his meeting with Hariri, saying that Kuwait’s relationship with Lebanon remained above such incidents. He thanked Lebanese political parties and local media for denouncing what Zahran had said.
“We brought up the issue with Hariri, who denounced [what was said] and expressed his discontent with it and promised to take the necessary measures” regarding Zahran’s allegations, Qenaei said.
The Kuwaiti Information Ministry also condemned the “attack” on the Kuwaiti emir, in a statement published by the National News Agency.
After the incident, Al-Manar issued a statement clarifying its position over the matter and distancing itself from what Zahran had said.
“What was mentioned in one of the interviews regarding Kuwait doesn’t reflect Al-Manar’s position at all and reflects only the opinion of the person who said it,” the outlet said.
“The outlet ensures that it was and continues to have huge respect for the Kuwaiti emir, government and people,” it said, adding that some were attempting to turn Zahran’s talk into a dispute with Kuwait.