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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 22 June 2018

Saudi Arabia recalls ambassador to Berlin over Lebanon comments

Saudis protest over remarks by Germany's foreign minister, calling them "dangerous"

Comments about Lebanon from Germany's foreign minister Sigmar Gabriel have pompted Saudi Arabia to recall its ambassador to Berlin in protest on November 18,  2017. Sergei Grits / AP
Comments about Lebanon from Germany's foreign minister Sigmar Gabriel have pompted Saudi Arabia to recall its ambassador to Berlin in protest on November 18, 2017. Sergei Grits / AP

Saudi Arabia has recalled its ambassador to Berlin in protest over comments made by the German foreign minister which were perceived as suggesting Lebanon's prime minister Saad Hariri had been held against his will in Riyadh.

Mr Hariri, a dual Saudi citizen left Riyadh for France early on Saturday following fevered speculation over his situation after he announced his shock resignation on television in Saudi Arabia two weeks ago saying he had left Lebanon in fear for his life.

Early on Saturday, Riyadh's state news agency SPA released a statement protesting against comments on the crisis by German foreign minister Sigmar Gabriel calling for Lebanon's neighbours — including Saudi Arabia — to let it decide its own fate.

"Saudi Arabia has decided to recall its ambassador to Germany for consultations and will give the German ambassador in the kingdom a letter protesting these unfortunate and unjustified statements," said a spokesman for the Saudi foreign ministry via SPA

Mr Hariri's resignation announcement and his subsequent failure to return home to officially quit in person, has fuelled speculation that he was acting under orders from his Saudi patrons.

Shortly before leaving Riyadh for Paris, Mr Hariri said on Twitter that it was untrue he was being held in Saudi.

"To say that I am held up in Saudi Arabia and not allowed to leave the country is a lie. I am on the way to the airport," he tweeted in a message addressed to Mr Gabriel.

Mr Hariri's resignation was quickly perceived as the latest round in a tug of war between Saudi Arabia, his longtime sponsor, and its regional arch-rival Iran.

It has raised deep concerns about the stability of Lebanon, which has long been riven by disagreements between Mr Hariri's bloc and that of his chief rival, the Iran-backed Hizbollah movement.

Mr Gabriel on Thursday said he shared the concern about the threat of instability and bloodshed in Lebanon and, without mentioning Saudi Arabia directly, warned against the "adventurism" behind the Lebanon crisis.

"Lebanon has earned the right to decide on its fate by itself and not become a pinball of Syria or Saudi Arabia or other national interests, " he said.

But according to SPA, a Saudi foreign ministry spokesman said: "These statements are dangerous, based on false information and do not help achieve stability in the region. These (statements) have astonished Saudi Arabia … which does not consider them representative of a friendly German government that is a reliable partner in the fight against terrorism and to establish security in the region."

Mr Hariri is expected to meet French president Emmanuel Macron Macron at noon (1100 GMT) on Saturday.