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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 18 June 2018

Lebanese president tells Saudi Arabia Hariri must return

Prime minister has stayed in Saudi Arabia since announcing his resignation a week ago

Posters of Saad Hariri, with a caption that reads: "#We_are_all_Saad", hang along Beirut's corniche on November 10, 2017. Joseph Eid / AFP
Posters of Saad Hariri, with a caption that reads: "#We_are_all_Saad", hang along Beirut's corniche on November 10, 2017. Joseph Eid / AFP

Lebanese president Michel Aoun told Saudi Arabia’s envoy that the way prime minister Saad Hariri announced his resignation from Riyadh was “unacceptable”, and called for his immediate return to Lebanon.

Mr Aoun made the comments in a meeting on Friday with Saudi Arabia’s charge d’affaires Walid Al Bukhari at the presidential palace outside Beirut, the state-run National News Agency reported.

The president also met envoys from the UAE, Egypt and Jordan. The International Support Group for Lebanon, which includes Russia, the US, the European Union and other countries, said it welcomed Mr Aoun’s demand for Mr Hariri’s return.

Mr Hariri, a pro-Saudi politician, unexpectedly announced his resignation in a televised speech from Saudi Arabia, blaming Iran for meddling in Lebanon’s affairs through its proxy, Hizbollah. That fuelled speculation that he was pressured to do so by by Saudi Arabia, and that he was being prevented from returning to Lebanon.

Lebanon has become the focal point of escalating tension between Saudi Arabia and Iran, who are on opposite sides of conflicts across the Middle East. After Mr Hariri’s speech resignation speech, Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen launched a missile at the international airport in Riyadh, an attack Saudi officials said could be an Iranian “act of war”. The United States on Friday confirmed Saudi claims that the missile was supplied by Iran.

US secretary of state Rex Tillerson, speaking in an interview as he flew from Beijing to Vietnam, said Saudi foreign minister Adel Al Jubeir had assured him Mr Hariri had resigned of his own accord. Based on that conversation, Mr Tillerson said he understands that the former prime minister - a dual Saudi and Lebanese national - would need to return home to formally leave his post.

Asked if Mr Hariri was being held against his will, Mr Tillerson replied, “I have no indication that is the case.”

Germany and France also dismissed allegations that Mr Hariri was being kept under house arrest in Saudi Arabia.

The German foreign ministry said it had no evidence that Mr Hariri was being held against his will and believed that he enjoys freedom of movement.

"We have no evidence that Hariri is being detained in Riyadh and we assume that he chooses where he goes," a ministry spokeswoman said.

Mr Hariri has not made any public statements since his resignation but has had meetings in Riyadh with diplomats from various countries including the United States, Britain and France.

An official in the office of French president Emmanuel Macron, who visited the UAE and Saudi Arabia this week, told Associated Press that Mr Hariri said in meetings with the French and US envoys that "he is not a prisoner"

French foreign minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said on Friday that his government believed there were no constraints placed on Mr Hariri.

"He went to Abu Dhabi the day before the President [Emmanuel] Macron's visit so we think he's free to move around," Mr Le Drian told Europe 1 radio.

Mr Macron was in the UAE capital on Wednesday for the inauguration of Louvre Abu Dhabi

"The Lebanese situation is the most worrying subject of the moment," Mr Le Drian added.

Mr Macron said he would discuss the situation in Lebanon Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman during an unscheduled stop in Riyadh on Thursday night.

“I believe it’s important that we work with Saudi Arabia for the purpose of guaranteeing stability in the region and the fight against terrorism,” Mr Macron said before leaving the UAE.

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Read more:

With Hariri gone, Lebanon is on a dangerous path

UAE calls on citizens not to travel to Lebanon

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