Ex-Le­banon PM ‘to re­turn in days’

The Phnom Penh Post - - WORLD - Rouba El Hus­seini

SAAD Hariri, whose res­ig­na­tion as Le­banon’s prime min­is­ter a week ago sent shock­waves across the re­gion, said on Sun­day he is “free” in Saudi Ara­bia and will re­turn to Le­banon “very soon”.

In an in­ter­view from Riyadh with his party’s Fu­ture TV, Hariri brushed aside ru­mours that he was un­der de facto house ar­rest in the king­dom, from which he an­nounced his sur­prise de­par­ture.

“I am free here. If I want to travel to­mor­row, I will,” Hariri said. “I will re­turn to Le­banon very soon,” Hariri said, adding later that he would land in Beirut “in two or three days”.

Hariri, 47, an­nounced he was step­ping down from his post in a tele­vised ad­dress on Novem­ber 4 from Riyadh, and has yet to re­turn to his na­tive Le­banon.

How­ever, Le­banese Pres­i­dent Michel Aoun has yet to for­mally ac­cept his res­ig­na­tion and said the premier has been “re­stricted” in his move­ments.

Hariri’s sur­prise res­ig­na­tion came as ten­sions rise be­tween Riyadh and Tehran, which back op­pos­ing sides in power strug­gles from Le­banon and Syria to Ye­men. At the time, Hariri ac­cused Iran and its Le­banese ally Hezbol­lah of tak­ing over his coun­try and desta­bil­is­ing the broader re­gion.

“We can­not con­tinue in Leb- anon in a sit­u­a­tion where Iran in­ter­feres in all Arab coun­tries, and that there’s a po­lit­i­cal fac­tion that in­ter­feres along­side it,” he re­peated on Sun­day in ap­par­ent ref­er­ence to ri­val move­ment Hezbol­lah.

“Maybe there’s a re­gional con­flict be­tween Arab coun­tries and Iran. We’re a small coun­try. Why put our­selves in the mid­dle?”

As ten­sions heated up, the Arab League said it would hold an ex­tra­or­di­nary meet­ing next Sun­day at the re­quest of Saudi Ara­bia to dis­cuss “vi­o­la­tions” by Iran in the re­gion, ac­cord­ing to a doc­u­ment shown to AFP by diplo­mats on Sun­day.

Wear­ing a suit and tie and with a Le­banese flag in the back­ground, the for­mer premier looked tired on Sun­day and spoke softly but firmly through­out the in­ter­view.

Hariri, who also holds Saudi cit­i­zen­ship, told jour­nal­ist Paula Yaa­coubian that he wrote his res­ig­na­tion him­self and wanted to sub­mit it in Le­banon, “but there was dan­ger”.

He also ap­peared to lay down an exit strat­egy, say­ing he would be will­ing to “re­scind the res­ig­na­tion” if in­ter­ven­tion in re­gional con­flicts stopped.

“We need to re­spect the dis­as­so­ci­a­tion pol­icy,” Hariri said, re­fer­ring to an agree­ment among Le­banese po­lit­i­cal fac­tions that they would not in­ter­fere in Syria’s six-year war.

He ap­peared to be al­lud­ing to Hezbol­lah’s mil­i­tary in­ter­ven­tion on be­half of the Syr­ian gov­ern­ment, to which Hariri is op­posed. Hezbol­lah chief Has­san Nas­ral­lah said on Fri­day that Hariri was “de­tained in Saudi Ara­bia, he is banned from re­turn­ing to Le­banon”.

‘Ex­cel­lent’ ties with Saudi

Hariri has spent the past week in a string of meet­ings with diplo­mats and Saudi of­fi­cials in Riyadh, in­clud­ing an en­counter with Saudi King Sal­man.

He left the king­dom once for a trip to Abu Dhabi.

In his in­ter­view on Sun­day, Hariri said he has “ex­cel­lent” ties with Crown Prince Mo­hammed bin Sal­man in an ap­par­ent ef­fort to put to rest ru­mours that the Saudi crown prince had pres­sured him to step down.

“Re­ally, I con­sider him a brother and he con­sid­ers me a brother. It’s an ex­cel­lent and spe­cial re­la­tion­ship,” he said.

But he re­fused to com­ment on the in­ter­nal po­lit­i­cal tur­moil in Saudi Ara­bia, where dozens of high-pro­file politi­cians and busi­ness­men have been ar­rested in what au­thor­i­ties say is an anti-graft drive.

The two-time premier’s fa­ther, Rafik, made his for­tune in Saudi Ara­bia and also served as premier for years be­fore he was as­sas­si­nated in 2005.

Saad cited fears for his life when he re­signed from his post last week, less than a year af­ter his unity gov­ern­ment was formed with Hezbol­lah.

Le­banese have ex­pressed con­cern the move could thrust the coun­try into a po­lit­i­cal and eco­nomic tail­spin, as it re­mains un­clear who could re­place Hariri.

Western coun­tries moved quickly to ex­press their sup­port for the premier, with US Sec­re­tary of State Rex Tiller­son calling him a “strong part­ner”.

Tiller­son warned against any party “us­ing Le­banon as a venue for proxy con­flicts or in any man­ner con­tribut­ing to in­sta­bil­ity in that coun­try”.

ANWAR AMRO/AFP

Le­banese watch an in­ter­view with Le­banon’s for­mer Prime Min­is­ter Saad Hariri at a cof­fee shop in Beirut on Sun­day.

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