Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri on Saturday said he will return to Lebanon to clarify his political position after abruptly resigning from Saudi Arabia two weeks ago, setting off fears of wider instability and raising questions about whether he had willingly quit.
Hariri spoke from Paris where he met with French President Emmanuel Macron after arriving on a plane from Riyadh early Saturday.
Lebanese officials had accused Saudi authorities of holding Hariri, a onetime political ally, hostage as part of an attempt to destabilize Lebanon. Macron quickly stepped in to mediate the crisis, inviting the embattled premier to France for an official visit and paving the way for his exit from Saudi Arabia.
Hariri plans to travel to Beirut next week for independence day celebrations and meetings with Lebanese President Michel Aoun.
“I will be going to Beirut in the next few days. I will participate in the celebration of our independence day. From there, I will announce my position on all matters after meeting with President Aoun,” he said from the French presidential palace in Paris.
“You know that I submitted my resignation, and we will talk about this issue in Lebanon,” he said.
The trip would mark an end to his mysterious self-exile since he suddenly stepped down Nov. 4, citing Iranian influence and the military power of Hezbollah, the Lebanese Shiite political movement and his partner in government. Hariri is a Sunni Muslim.
Lebanon was shocked by his resignation and pointed to the harsh language of his statement as evidence he only stepped down under pressure.
Saudi officials are keen to squeeze Hezbollah as Iran’s most powerful proxy in the region. Saudi Arabia’s Sunni monarchy and Shiite-majority Iran are in a battle for influence across a battered Middle East – a rivalry that has helped kill tens of thousands in places such as Iraq, Syria and Yemen.
(c) 2017, The Washington Post · Erin Cunningham, James Mcauley