Hariri urges calm, says he is well, re­turn­ing within days

Rai meets Saudi king, crown prince and Le­banese prime min­is­ter in Riyadh

The Daily Star (Lebanon) - - FRONT PAGE - By Hus­sein Dakroub

BEIRUT: Prime Min­is­ter Saad Hariri Tues­day re­as­sured the Le­banese that he was fine in Saudi Ara­bia and would be re­turn­ing to Le­banon in the next few days, as France and the Euro­pean Union stepped up their calls for Hariri to be able to re­turn home freely.

In his first tweet since Nov. 6, Hariri, urged the Le­banese to re­main calm.

“Guys, I am per­fectly fine, and God will­ing I will re­turn in the com­ing days. Let’s calm down,” Hariri posted on his Twit­ter ac­count.

“My fam­ily is stay­ing in their coun­try, Saudi Ara­bia, the king­dom of good.”

Since Hariri’s shock res­ig­na­tion on Nov. 4, spec­u­la­tion and doubts have sur­rounded his cir­cum­stances.

Pres­i­dent Michel Aoun has not ac­cepted Hariri’s res­ig­na­tion, say­ing that he will wait for the prime min­is­ter to re­turn to Le­banon be­fore mak­ing any de­ci­sion on the mat­ter.

He has also urged Saudi Ara­bia to clar­ify the rea­sons be­hind the de­lay in Hariri’s re­turn.

In Riyadh, Ma­ronite Pa­tri­arch Be­shara Rai met separately with Saudi King Sal­man bin Ab­dul-Aziz and Crown Prince Mo­ham­mad bin Sal­man dur­ing what was la­beled as a “his­toric visit” – the first to the king­dom by a Le­banese Chris­tian pa­tri­arch – with talks fo­cus­ing on bi­lat­eral re­la­tions and Hariri’s res­ig­na­tion.

King Sal­man and Rai “re­viewed broth­erly re­la­tions be­tween the king­dom and Le­banon, and stressed the im­por­tance of the role of var­i­ous re­li­gions and cul­tures in pro­mot­ing tol­er­ance, re­nounc­ing vi­o­lence, ex­trem­ism and ter­ror­ism and achiev­ing se­cu­rity and peace for the peo­ples of the re­gion and the world,” the of­fi­cial Saudi Press Agency re­ported.

The meet­ing, held in the king’s of­fice at the Ya­mama Palace in Riyadh, was at­tended by the Saudi in­te­rior and for­eign af­fairs min­is­ters as well as Min­is­ter for Arab Gulf Af­fairs Thamer al-Sab­han, an out­spo­ken critic of Hezbol­lah, who has called for the ex­pul­sion of the Ira­nian-backed party from the Le­banese gov­ern­ment.

Af­ter the meet­ing, Rai said that he had heard “a Saudi an­them of love

for Le­banon, its peo­ple and its land” from both the king and the crown prince.

Rai later met with Hariri, and said that the prime min­is­ter had told him he would re­turn to Le­banon “as soon as pos­si­ble.”

No tele­vi­sion cam­eras or re­porters were al­lowed to cover Rai’s meet­ings with the king, crown prince and Hariri, and only pho­tos of the en­coun­ters were re­leased.

Speak­ing to re­porters af­ter meet­ing Hariri, Rai voiced sup­port for the prime min­is­ter over his res­ig­na­tion, which plunged the coun­try into po­lit­i­cal tur­moil.

De­scrib­ing the meet­ing with Hariri as “very good,” Rai said: “I am con­vinced by the rea­sons for his res­ig­na­tion. Prime Min­is­ter Hariri will re­turn to Le­banon as soon as pos­si­ble.”

Rai said that Hariri’s res­ig­na­tion would not af­fect Le­banese-Saudi re­la­tions, adding that friend­ship be­tween the two coun­tries had not been af­fected by pre­vi­ous crises.

“This is what I heard to­day from the king and the crown prince, who con­firmed their love and sup­port for Le­banon,” the pa­tri­arch said.

Rai wrapped up his two-day visit to the king­dom by meet­ing with Riyadh Gov. Prince Faisal bin Ban­dar be­fore leav­ing for Rome Tues­day night to at­tend a num­ber of church meet­ings in the Vat­i­can.

As the mys­tery over Hariri’s res­ig­na­tion per­sisted, French Prime Min­is­ter Edouard Philippe said that Hariri must be able to re­turn home from Saudi Ara­bia to end the un­cer­tainty caused by his res­ig­na­tion.

“What’s at stake is Mr. Hariri be­ing able to re­turn home freely to clar­ify his sit­u­a­tion in line with the Le­banese con­sti­tu­tion,” Philippe told Par­lia­ment in Paris, say­ing Hariri’s res­ig­na­tion had caused “a pe­riod of un­cer­tainty.”

French For­eign Min­is­ter Jean-Yves Le Drian is head­ing to Saudi Ara­bia Wednes­day for fur­ther talks.

For­eign Min­is­ter Ge­bran Bas­sil, who trav­eled to Brus­sels and Paris Tues­day to meet with se­nior Euro­pean of­fi­cials to drum up sup­port for Le­banon’s sta­bil­ity fol­low­ing Hariri’s res­ig­na­tion, held talks with French Pres­i­dent Emmanuel Macron fo­cus­ing on Hariri’s sit­u­a­tion.

Speak­ing to re­porters af­ter the meet­ing at the El­y­see Palace, Bas­sil said Le­banon might re­sort to in­ter­na­tional law to de­ter­mine Hariri’s con­di­tion, sug­gest­ing the prime min­is­ter was be­ing held against his will, if he didn’t re­turn to Le­banon. “To­day, we and France are wait­ing for the re­turn of Prime Min­is­ter Saad Hariri to his coun­try as he had promised us last Sun­day dur­ing the TV in­ter­view and he re­peated his prom­ise to­day,” Bas­sil said. “We are wait­ing for his re­turn so that we can emerge from this ab­nor­mal and ex­tra­or­di­nary sit­u­a­tion.”

Bas­sil, known for tak­ing stances at Arab and Mus­lim con­fer­ences that have an­gered Saudi Ara­bia, said the cri­sis over Hariri’s res­ig­na­tion would end with his re­turn to Le­banon. “We want to set­tle the ex­tra­or­di­nary sit­u­a­tion through bi­lat­eral re­la­tions with Saudi Ara­bia . ... We hope Le­banon doesn’t have to re­sort to in­ter­na­tional con­ven­tions,” Bas­sil said. He also warned that in­sta­bil­ity in Le­banon would lead to in­sta­bil­ity in the en­tire re­gion.

Dur­ing a meet­ing with Bas­sil in Brus­sels, the EU’s top di­plo­mat Fed­er­ica Mogherini also called for se­cur­ing the re­turn of Hariri and his fam­ily to Le­banon.

“The re­turn of Prime Min­is­ter Saad Hariri and his fam­ily to Le­banon is ur­gent in the com­ing days; [it] will help bol­ster in­ter­nal sta­bil­ity and strengthen na­tional unity in Le­banon,” Mogherini said, ac­cord­ing to a state­ment re­leased by the Le­banese For­eign Min­istry.

Speak­ing on Fu­ture TV from Riyadh Sun­day night in his first in­ter­view with since his res­ig­na­tion an­nounce­ment, Hariri de­nied that the de­ci­sion had been forced upon him by Saudi lead­ers and pledged to re­turn to Le­banon in the next “two or three days” to meet with Aoun and un­der­take the nec­es­sary con­sti­tu­tional pro­ce­dures con­cern­ing his res­ig­na­tion.

He of­fered to with­draw his res­ig­na­tion on the con­di­tion that Hezbol­lah com­ply with the gov­ern­ment’s dis­so­ci­a­tion pol­icy to­ward re­gional con­flicts, namely in Ye­men and Syria.

The Fu­ture Move­ment’s par­lia­men­tary bloc stressed that Hariri’s re­turn to Le­banon was a top pri­or­ity, while re­new­ing its call for re­spect­ing Le­banon’s pol­icy of dis­so­ci­a­tion and U.N. Se­cu­rity Coun­cil Res­o­lu­tion 1701, which ended Is­rael’s 34-day War on Le­banon in 2006.

Not­ing that Le­banon was go­ing through “dif­fi­cult cir­cum­stances,” the bloc un­der­lined the “im­por­tance to up­hold na­tional po­lit­i­cal prin­ci­ples, at the fore­front of which is the mes­sage of Mus­lim-Chris­tian co­ex­is­tence and re­spect of the Con­sti­tu­tion, the Taif Ac­cord and the [gov­ern­ment’s] pol­icy state­ment which calls for dis­so­ci­at­ing Le­banon from the re­gion’s con­flicts and which stresses the adop­tion of a dis­so­ci­a­tion pol­icy and re­frain­ing from in­ter­ven­ing in the in­ter­nal af­fairs of Arab coun­tries.”

In a state­ment is­sued af­ter the bloc’s meet­ing, the bloc praised Rai’s “his­toric” visit to Saudi Ara­bia, say­ing it re­flected the de­sire of all the Le­banese to boost “close ties with Arab coun­tries, par­tic­u­larly with the King­dom of Saudi Ara­bia.”

Separately, Ger­man Chan­cel­lor An­gela Merkel spoke by tele­phone with Aoun, dur­ing which she af­firmed Ger­many’s sup­port for ef­forts to nor­mal­ize the sit­u­a­tion in Le­banon fol­low­ing Hariri’s res­ig­na­tion, a state­ment from Aoun’s me­dia of­fice said.

Rai de­scribed the meet­ing with Hariri as “very good.”

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