Hariri: I’ll return in next two days
Top adviser to Iranian leader gives account at odds with Lebanese PM's
BEIRUT/RIYADH (Reuters) – Saad Hariri, Lebanon’s prime minister who resigned from his post on November 4, said on Monday he was fine and would return to Lebanon in the next two days.
On Twitter, Hariri urged Lebanese to remain calm and said his family would stay in Saudi Arabia, calling it “their country.”
Hariri’s resignation pitched Lebanon into a political crisis. Top Lebanese government officials and senior politicians close to Hariri believe Saudi Arabia coerced him into quitting and has been holding him against his will ever since, though Hariri and Riyadh have denied this.
Hariri cited fear of assassination and Iran and Lebanon’s Hezbollah sowing strife in his resignation speech.
Lebanese President Michel Aoun, who has stated that he believes Riyadh is restricting Hariri’s freedom, has refused to accept his resignation until his return from Saudi Arabia.
The political crisis has thrust Lebanon into the forefront of the rivalry between Saudi Arabia and Iran, which is being played out on battlefields from Syria to Yemen.
A top Iranian official’s account of a key meeting held with Hariri right before he quit is at odds with the story told by the ex-prime minister.
Hariri flew to Riyadh on November 3, after meeting in Beirut Ali Akbar Velayati, the top foreign policy adviser to Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
“Hariri claims that in our meeting he asked Iran to stop interfering in the Lebanese affairs, but he did not say such a thing,” Velayati was quoted as saying by Iranian state television’s website on Tuesday.
“Our meeting was not tense or violent at all. These are all lies,” he said.
Hariri’s office denied Velayati’s account that the Lebanese leader had offered to mediate between Iran and Saudi Arabia.
“Prime Minister Hariri did not offer mediation between any countries,” a statement from his press office said.
“He presented to Velayati his point of view about the need to stop Iranian interventions in Yemen as a gateway and a precondition for any improvement in ties between [Iran] and the kingdom,” it said.