Hariri Confirms Return to Beirut as Paris Vows to Work for 'Lebanon Stability'
Prime Minister Saad Hariri said he will return to Lebanon for Wednesday's Independence Day celebrations and explain his situation, after his shock resignation announcement in Saudi Arabia sparked political turmoil.
Speaking after talks in Paris with French President Emmanuel Macron, who is seeking to broker a way out of the crisis, Hariri said he would "make known my position" once back in Beirut.
"As you know I have resigned, and we will discuss that in Lebanon," he told reporters, saying he needed to meet with President Michel Aoun before taking further steps.
The news follows two weeks of deep uncertainty after Hariri's surprise announcement to step down on November 4.
His failure to return to Lebanon since sparked rumors that he was being held in Riyadh against his will, which both he and Saudi officials denied.
"To say that I am held up in Saudi Arabia and not allowed to leave the country is a lie," he said in a Twitter post just before flying to Paris on Friday night.
Hariri's wife and eldest son Houssam joined him for lunch with Macron at the Elysee Palace, but their two younger children, who live in Saudi Arabia, have remained there "for their school exams," a source close to the premier said.
After the meeting, Macron's office said the president will "continue to take all necessary initiatives for Lebanon's stability."
"We are helping to ease tensions in the region," the Elysee Palace added.
Hariri's mysterious decision to step down -- which president Aoun has refused to accept while Hariri remains abroad -- has raised fears over Lebanon's fragile democracy.
Hariri's camp has sought to allay the concerns, with a source saying the premier had a "fruitful and constructive" meeting with the powerful Saudi crown prince.
Hariri's resignation was widely seen as an escalation of the battle for influence between Sunni Saudi Arabia and Shiite Iran, which back opposing sides in the conflicts in Syria and Yemen.
His attempt to step down also coincides with a purge of more than 200 Saudi princes, ministers and businessmen.
- 'Start of a solution' -
France's intervention was the latest in a string of European efforts to defuse tensions over Lebanon, where divisions between Hariri's Sunni bloc and Shiite Hizbullah have long been a focal point in a broader struggle between Riyadh and Tehran.
Paris, which held mandate power over Lebanon for the first half of the 20th century, plans to bring together international support for Lebanon, depending on how the situation develops.
The French president has also telephoned his counterparts in the U.S. and Egypt, Donald Trump and Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, as well as the Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman and U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to discuss "the situation in the Middle East."
He and Trump "agreed on the need to work with allies to counter Hizbullah's and Iran's destabilizing activities in the region," according to a White House statement Saturday.
However, Macron told reporters Friday that France wanted "dialogue" with Iran and aimed to "build peace… not to choose one side over another."
Ahead of Hariri's departure, Aoun welcomed the trip to Paris, expressing hope that it was the "start of a solution."
"If Mr Hariri speaks from France, I would consider that he speaks freely," Aoun said.
"But his resignation must be presented in Lebanon, and he will have to remain there until the formation of the new government."