Lebanon News

Saudi ambassador to Lebanon responds to WikiLeaks: 'We are not ashamed of anything'

Saudi Ambassador to Lebanon Ali Awad Asiri attends a meeting in Beirut, Wednesday, April 15, 2015. (The Daily Star/Mohammad Azakir)

BEIRUT: Saudi Arabia is not ashamed of any of the information revealed in the secret documents published by WikiLeaks earlier this month, which included revelations of financial support to Lebanese politicians and media who promised to promote Riyadh's interests, the Saudi ambassador to Lebanon said Tuesday.

On June 19, Wikileaks published more than 60,000 secret cables from Saudi embassies around the world, including its mission in Beirut, in which Saudi officials speak bluntly about their goals and interests in Lebanon.

“Saudi Arabia’s policy is known to everyone, and when it supports any political side or party, it is serving Lebanon’s interests,” Saudi Ambassador Ali Awad Asiri told reporters after a meeting with former President Michel Sleiman Tuesday.

“[We] did not support building any militias in Lebanon, nor did we conspire against the Lebanese or trick them,” he added.

The leaked documents, which the kingdom had urged media and individuals against publishing, revealed that prominent Lebanese politicians and media had sought millions of dollars from Riyadh, with many promising to push Saudi policies in return.

“Saudi’s Arabia’s policy is about doing good for Lebanon, be it in secret or in public. This is why we are not ashamed of anything,” Asiri said.

Asiri voiced pride in Riyadh's economic support to Lebanon after the country's civil war, and the humanitarian aid it is currently channeling to the more than 1 million Syrian refugees it hosts today.

Saudi officials never explicitly challenged the authenticity of the documents, and Asiri's comments Tuesday indicated that they are in fact genuine.

WikiLeaks says the batch of documents released earlier this month was only the first of about half a million it had obtained.

Among the documents leaked so far was a 2012 letter that said Lebanese Forces chief Samir Geagea was ready "to do what the kingdom asks him to do” in exchange for money.

Geagea, who has not commented on the leaks since they emerged, had pleaded for financial assistance from Saudi Arabia when his party was going bankrupt. In the letter, then-Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal recommended to the late-King Abdullah that Geagea receive the money requested since he pledged to “work under the kingdom’s instructions.”

A separate document dated Jan. 2, 2013 said Lebanese MP Boutros Harb was planning to split from the March 14 political camp to launch his own group after the parliamentary elections, which were eventually cancelled that year.

In a meeting with Faisal, Harb “hoped that the kingdom would support this [new political] gathering morally, politically and financially,” but on the condition that the aid would not be channeled through Future Movement chief Saad Hariri.

Another document revealed that Michel Mouawad, the son of former minister Nayla Mouawad and late-President Rene Mouawad, requested a meeting with the Saudi king. However, their request was turned down and they were only given an appointment six months later with the deputy foreign minister.

During the meeting, Mouawad asked Saudi Arabia for “urgent assistance” ahead of the elections that were supposed to be held in 2013 to win back seats lost during the previous election.

Another document revealed that then-Kataeb Party chief Amine Gemayel was seeking Saudi Arabia’s permission to visit Syria and accept the Syrian government’s efforts to restore relations with his party.

The document - a letter from Asiri to Faisal - mentioned that Gemayel would abide by the “king’s personal instructions” and would not take any action except "under King Abdullah’s command.” It said that his party’s relations with Syria would follow the “standard” set by the kingdom.

Other cables were focused on the money dynamics between Saudi Arabia and Lebanese media.

One document showed that the kingdom accepted to fund Lebanese TV channel MTV with $2 million in four installments of $500,000.

The funding would be accompanied by an action plan to ensure the station would “serve the kingdom’s causes” against “opposing media in Lebanon and elsewhere,” according to the document.

LBC, another prominent Lebanese channel, was also the subject of two leaked document. In one of them, the Saudi Foreign Ministry requested information about Iran’s willingess to fund Pierre Daher, the company’s chairman.

Another letter from Faisal to royal authorities included a warning about a report aired on LBC that claimed former President Michel Sleiman had asked Faisal to mediate an end to Israel’s occupation of the Shebaa Farms.

The letter, quoting Asiri, said that LBC could “go to the extreme” in its stances against the kingdom. To prevent that would require them to exert "pressure [on] the channel," Asiri said.

Such pressure should be applied through the Choueiri Group, “which is a Lebanese advertising company that has wide interests in the kingdom, and controls a large part of the Lebanese advertising market," Asiri recommended.

The document also revealed the possibility of blocking LBC’s satellite broadcasting through legal procedures to punish it for the Shebaa Farms report.

In other leaked documents, Asiri discusses ways to “deal with” Nasri al-Sayegh, a journalist who wrote an opinion piece criticizing Saudi foreign policy for As-Safir newspaper.

Among the methods discussed to punish him was increasing support to pro-saudi newspapers in Lebanon, including An-Nahar, Al-Joumhouria and Al-Mustaqbal.

Sayegh was described as a “left-leaning Christian who belongs to the Syrian Social Nationalist Party,” noting that his daughter was married to a Shiite Muslim.

Another document also showed how Lebanese media personality May Chidiac requested Saudi funding for her Media Academy.

Aouni al-Kaaki, the editor-in-chief of Al-Sharq newspaper, also asked for financial assistance, according to another cable, saying he was $3 million in debt and had refused offers of assistance from Qatar, Syria and Iran.

Kaaki, who was elected to head the Lebanese Press Federation earlier this year, said that “Iran supports Hezbollah with $1 billion per year and possesses a dangerous agenda targeting Lebanon and the whole region including Israel.”

 

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