Hariri urges calm, says he is well, returning within days
Rai meets Saudi king, crown prince and Lebanese prime minister in Riyadh
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.”