Tue, Nov 14, 2017 - Page 6 News List

Lebanon PM to return ‘very soon’

AFP, BEIRUT

People smoke while watching a television interview with Lebanese Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri in a coffee shop in Beirut on Sunday.
Warning: Smoking can damage your health

Photo: Reuters

Lebanese Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri, whose resignation a week ago sent shockwaves across the region, on Sunday said he is “free” in Saudi Arabia and would return to Lebanon “very soon.”

In an interview from Riyadh with his party’s Future TV, al-Hariri brushed aside rumors that he was under de facto house arrest.

“I am free here. If I want to travel tomorrow, I will,” al-Hariri said, adding that he would land in Beirut “in two or three days.”

Al-Hariri, 47, announced he was stepping down in a televised address on Nov. 4 from Riyadh.

However, Lebanese President Michel Aoun has yet to formally accept his resignation and said the prime minister has been “restricted” in his movements.

The surprise resignation came as tensions rise between Riyadh and Tehran, which back opposing sides in power struggles from Lebanon and Syria to Yemen.

At the time, al-Hariri accused Iran and its Lebanese ally Hezbollah of taking over his nation and destabilizing the broader region.

“We cannot continue in Lebanon in a situation where Iran interferes in all Arab countries, and that there’s a political faction that interferes alongside it,” he said on Sunday in apparent reference to rival movement Hezbollah. “Maybe there’s a regional conflict between Arab countries and Iran. We’re a small country. Why put ourselves in the middle?”

As tensions heated up, the Arab League said it would hold an extraordinary meeting on Sunday at the request of Saudi Arabia to discuss “violations” by Iran in the region, according to a document shown reporters by diplomats.

Wearing a suit and tie and with a Lebanese flag in the background, the al-Hariri on Sunday looked tired and spoke softly, but firmly throughout the interview.

Al-Hariri, who also holds Saudi citizenship, told journalist Paula Yaacoubian that he wrote his resignation himself and wanted to submit it in Lebanon, “but there was danger.”

He also appeared to lay down an exit strategy, saying he would be willing to “rescind the resignation” if intervention in regional conflicts stopped.

“We need to respect the disassociation policy,” al-Hariri said, referring to an agreement among Lebanese political factions that they would not interfere in Syria’s six-year war.

He appeared to be alluding to Hezbollah’s military intervention on behalf of the Syrian government, to which al-Hariri is opposed.

Al-Hariri has spent the past week in a string of meetings with diplomats and Saudi officials in Riyadh, including an encounter with Saudi King Salman.

In his interview, al-Hariri said he has “excellent” ties with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in an apparent effort to put to rest rumors that the Saudi crown prince had pressured him to step down.

However, he refused to comment on the internal political turmoil in Saudi Arabia, where dozens of high-profile politicians and businessmen have been arrested in what authorities say is an anti-graft drive.

The two-time prime minister’s father, Rafik, made his fortune in Saudi Arabia and also served as premier for years before he was assassinated in 2005.

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