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On historic Saudi visit, Maronite Patriarch supports Hariri’s reasons for resigning

King Salman receives Lebanon’s Maronite Catholic Patriarch Bechara Al-Rahi in Al-Yamamah Palace in Riyadh. (SPA)
BEIRUT/RIYADH: King Salman on Tuesday received Lebanon’s Maronite Catholic Patriarch Bechara Al-Rahi in Al-Yamamah Palace in Riyadh.

They “reviewed fraternal relations between the Kingdom and Lebanon and confirmed the importance of the role of different religions and cultures in promoting tolerance, and renouncing violence and terrorism,” the Saudi Press Agency said.

After the meeting, the patriarch said: “I can assure you that we are returning carrying an ode of love for the country and we must work together, each from his own position … in order to portray the beautiful face of Lebanon, which we need very much.”

Nothing should affect relations between Saudi Arabia and Lebanon, the patriarch said. “And even if special circumstances occurred, they should not affect the current friendship. And this is what we heard today from the king and the crown prince.”

The meeting was attended by Saudi Interior Minister Prince Abdul Aziz bin Saud bin Naif; Musaid Al-Aiban, minister of state and member of the Cabinet; Foreign Minister Adel Al-Jubeir; and Gulf Affairs Minister Thamer Al-Sabhan.

The patriarch also met with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

Lebanon’s ambassador to the Kingdom, Abdul Sattar Issa, said Al-Rahi was very happy to have met the king and crown prince during his first ever visit to Saudi Arabia.

“The patriarch discussed religious and cultural issues with the king and crown prince, and explored ways to strengthen cooperation between the religious bodies of the two countries,” Issa told Arab News. This is the start of future exchanges of visits, he added.

Former Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri, who resigned last week, also met with Al-Rahi, but the meeting was held away from the media, Lebanon’s National News Agency (NNA) reported. The patriarch described the meeting as “very nice.”

Al-Rahi said Hariri conveyed that “he’s ready to resume his job, but there needs to be discussions with… Lebanese leaders about the issues that made him resign.”

If and when Hariri decides to return to Lebanon, the patriarch said: “A new era would begin, God willing, and a new march. Let us always look forward.”

Al-Rahi declared his backing for Hariri and said he supported the reasons for Hariri’s resignation.

“I am fully convinced by the reasons for his resignation,” the patriarch said. “He was expressing something he felt in his heart and experience. He will return to Lebanon as soon as possible.”

Hariri confirmed this. “Everybody, I’m totally fine. God willing, I’ll be back in these two days. Let’s calm down,” he said on social media. He said his family would remain in Saudi Arabia, which was “their country.”

Riyadh Gov. Prince Faisal bin Bandar held a luncheon banquet in honor of Al-Rahi and his delegation.

It was attended by Riyadh Deputy Gov. Prince Mohammed bin Abdulrahman bin Abdul Aziz; Faisal bin Abdul Aziz Al-Sudairy, undersecretary of the Riyadh governorate; Suhmi bin Shuwaimi bin Fawiz, special adviser and general supervisor of the office of Riyadh’s governor; Riyadh Mayor Ibrahim Al-Sultan; and other senior officials, the SPA reported.

“We hope to meet in Lebanon, and that Lebanon lives in security and stability,” said Prince Faisal.

“The purpose of the mutual visits is to establish a new policy… under the leadership of King Salman and the dear brothers in Lebanon.”

Al-Rahi told reporters: “We were honored to meet King Salman and the crown prince. We crowned the visit by meeting the governor of Riyadh, whom we thank for his love. What we heard, both from the king and the crown prince… was the ode of Saudi love of Lebanon.”

The patriarch added: “The king never stopped talking about Lebanon, and expressed his big love of Lebanon and his hope in the continuous support of Lebanon.”

The king and crown prince talked about “their respect for the Lebanese community in the Kingdom, especially that they’re active and have contributed in building the Kingdom which is dear to them, and they love and respect its laws and traditions,” Al-Rahi said.

“We must work together… in order to portray the beautiful face of Lebanon, which we need very much.”

Al-Rahi said “nothing should affect” bilateral relations, “and this is what we heard from the king, the crown prince and the governor of Riyadh.”

The patriarch said his visit highlighted the strong cultural links between Lebanon and Saudi Arabia.

During a community reception hosted in honor of Al-Rahi at the Lebanese Embassy, he said he was very happy to visit the Kingdom.

Thanking the king and crown prince for the invitation, Al-Rahi said Saudi Arabia had contributed immensely to supporting and building Lebanon economically and politically, and had helped the country strengthen its security and stability.

Al-Rahi left Riyadh on Tuesday evening for church meetings at the Vatican.

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