RIYADH/BEIRUT: Saad Hariri, who resigned as Lebanon’s prime minister on Nov. 4, is in Saudi Arabia of his own will and is free to leave whenever he pleases, Saudi Foreign Minister Adel Al-Jubeir said Thursday.
Addressing a joint press conference with French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian in Riyadh, Al-Jubeir rejected accusations from Beirut that Hariri is being held by the Kingdom.
“Accusing Saudi Arabia of holding Hariri is completely baseless. It doesn’t hold merit as Hariri is free to go anywhere he wants,” Al-Jubeir said, adding that Hariri has some concerns about the security situation in Lebanon.
The Saudi foreign minister said Hezbollah is disturbing regional peace and stability by supporting Houthi militias in Yemen, suppressing the will of the Syrian people and violating Lebanese law. Hezbollah must learn to “respect Lebanon’s sovereignty,” he added.
Wider consultations and coordination between countries are ongoing to allow peace and stability in Lebanon, and to restore its sovereignty, Al-Jubeir said.
Le Drian echoed Riyadh’s concerns, saying France is worried about Iran’s “hegemonic” intentions in the Middle East.
“I’m thinking specifically about Iran’s ballistic program,” he said. “We need to work in order to stop the spread of nuclear activities.”
Le Drian added that he met Hariri, who will travel to France at President Emmanuel Macron’s invitation. “He’ll come to France as soon as he wants,” Le Drian told reporters.
In his resignation speech from Saudi Arabia, Hariri condemned Iran and Hezbollah for sowing discord in Arab states, and said he feared assassination. His father, former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, was killed in a 2005 bombing.
Le Drian said he met with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and discussed cooperation in various fields, including implementing Vision 2030.
In response to a question on Riyadh hosting a meeting of Syrian opposition leaders, Al-Jubeir said they will be in the Saudi capital on Wednesday and Thursday next week with the aim of unifying their ranks ahead of direct negotiations in Geneva under UN supervision.
Le Drian expressed hope that violence in Syria will stop soon to make way for peace. “We know Russia and Iran have some ability to stop it,” he said.
All concerned parties should respect all sects and people of Syria, and the country should be unified by promoting harmony, Le Drian added.
Al-Jubeir thanked France’s leadership for condemning the recent Houthi missile attack on Riyadh.
He said both the Kingdom and France are peace-loving, and share common concerns that they discussed during their meeting, including confronting terrorism and resolving the Syrian and Yemeni crises in line with UN Security Council resolutions.
Macron condemned the Houthi missile attack over the Saudi capital during his first visit to the Middle East last week.
In Beirut, President Michel Aoun expressed hope that “Hariri’s acceptance of French President Macron’s invitation to visit Paris with his family would constitute a gateway for (finding) a solution to the crisis, which was caused by Hariri’s announcement of his resignation from Riyadh, with all the ambiguity that has caused about his situation.”
Aoun added, “Prime Minister Hariri accepted the invitation of Macron.”
President Aoun said that he would “wait for Hariri’s return to Beirut to discuss with him the issue of resignation, which has not been accepted up to now, and when he comes he’ll decide whether he still wants to resign or resume his position as prime minister. The resignation must be presented in Lebanon, and he has to stay in Lebanon until a new government is formed, because a caretaker prime minister is supposed to be in Lebanon.”
Elias Bou Saab, President Aoun’s adviser for international affairs, said that the president’s statements on Wednesday were not meant to escalate the situation with Saudi Arabia but to get it back to “dialogue and communication.” He stressed that relations between Lebanon and Saudi Arabia “have not reached the point of no-return.”
Likaa Al-Joumhouria (Forum of the Republic), under the leadership of former President Michel Suleiman, called for “calm on the Saudi-Lebanon line, and for waiting for the return of Hariri to avoid raising tension between the two brotherly countries.” The forum hoped that the causes that forced Hariri into this situation would be “dealt with in a way that would guarantee the neutrality of Lebanon away from conflicts.”
Sheikh Abdul Latif Derian, the grand mufti of Lebanon, said that “the relationship between Lebanon and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has been strong and deeply rooted since the independence of Lebanon, and it should be preserved, maintained and fortified, no matter what conditions Lebanon may experience. Lebanon needs the help of its Arab brethren, primarily Saudi Arabia, to solve the crisis it has been going through following the resignation of Prime Minister Saad Hariri, and to review the causes of the resignation.”
Mustapha Allouch, member of the Politburo of the Future Movement, said in a statement to Al-Markazia news agency that “a superficial treatment of the crisis would not contribute to the solution but rather lead to repercussions complicating the situation even further.” Allouch said that “the return of Hariri is certainly linked to specific understandings between the Kingdom and European countries.”
Allouch said that the meeting of Arab foreign ministers on Sunday would “form a landmark event for Lebanon,” and stressed that the Lebanese foreign minister “should have a clear and frank position with the Arab consensus, which believes in the Lebanese interest and protects it from the repercussions of the huge tempest blowing through the region.”
He said that Lebanon should “stress its support for the Kingdom against Iranian aggression, not just adopt a self-distancing policy, but the insistence of the [Hezbollah] party on its policies means the continuation of the problem.”