January 20, 2011 in Nation/World

Saudis quit Lebanon diplomacy, hurting U.S.

Elizabeth A. Kennedy Associated Press

BEIRUT, Lebanon – American diplomacy in the Middle East suffered a setback Wednesday when U.S. ally Saudi Arabia abandoned efforts to mediate the political crisis in Lebanon, where the militant group Hezbollah has toppled the Western-backed government.

The withdrawal of Arab powerhouse Saudi Arabia is the latest sign that the competition over influence in Lebanon is tipping in favor of Hezbollah and its patrons Iran and Syria.

In an interview Wednesday with the Saudi-owned Al-Arabiya TV, Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal said the Saudi king has decided he is “withdrawing his hand” after months of diplomatic efforts failed to calm tensions. He did not elaborate.

The political crisis stems from a U.N. court’s investigation of the 2005 assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, a Sunni leader who was a close ally of the Saudis.

Hariri was a dual Saudi-Lebanese national with very close ties to the Saudi royal family.

The court, which is widely expected to accuse the Shiite Hezbollah, filed a sealed draft indictment Monday, touching off a process many fear could ignite new bloodshed nearly six years after the massive truck bombing along Beirut’s waterfront that killed Hariri.

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