BEIRUT (AP) — Lebanon’s Prime Minister Saad Hariri said Friday his stay in Saudi Arabia was to consult with officials there on the future of Lebanon and its relations with its Arab neighbors, dismissing as “rumors” reports about his alleged detention in the kingdom.
Hariri’s tweet came hours before he was expected in France two weeks after his surprise resignation in Saudi Arabia.
The office of French President Emmanuel Macron said Hariri is expected in Paris’ presidential palace by midday Saturday. Macron said Hariri will be received “with the honors due a prime minister,” even though he has announced his resignation, since Lebanon hasn’t yet recognized it.
“My stay in the kingdom is to consult about the future of Lebanon and its relation with its Arab environs,” he tweeted. “All stories spreading about my sojourn and departure or that deal with the circumstances of my family are merely rumors.”
Macron, speaking at an EU summit in Goteborg, Sweden, said Hariri could stay in Paris for weeks should he choose.
Macron said that Hariri “has the intention, I believe, of going to his country in the days or weeks ahead” — the first time a possible timeframe was evoked.
The Arab League is due to hold a meeting on Sunday in Cairo at Saudi Arabia’s urging where the Lebanon crisis and Iran’s role in the region are expected to be discussed.
Hariri’s televised Nov. 4 resignation from Riyadh stunned the Lebanese, many of whom saw it as a sign that the kingdom — the prime minister’s chief ally — had decided to drag tiny Lebanon into the Sunni kingdom’s feud with the region’s other powerhouse, the predominantly Shiite Iran.
The surprise resignation sparked accusations, including from the Lebanese head of state President Michel Aoun who accused Saudi Arabia of detaining him.
Saudi officials denied the reports, adding that Hariri was an ally, but railed against Hezbollah, the Lebanese terrorist group backed by Iran, accusing the two of meddling in the region’s affairs and backing anti-Saudi rebels in Yemen.
The move by Saudi-aligned Hariri raised concerns in a region already beset by conflict. Many feared Lebanon’s delicate sectarian-based political system could be easily upended if the county is dragged into a battle for regional supremacy between Saudi Arabia and Iran.
On Friday, Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister said that there will be no stability in Lebanon unless the militant group Hezbollah disarms.
“This is what we hope,” Adel al-Jubeir said at a press conference in Madrid with his Spanish counterpart.
It was the second day in a row that the Saudi minister railed against Hezbollah. On Thursday, he called the group a “first-class terrorist organization” that should lay down its arms and respect Lebanon’s sovereignty. Saudi Arabia has already asked its nationals to leave Lebanon.
Hariri is expected in France this weekend following a French invitation, which appears aimed to end speculation about him being held against his will.
France, Lebanon’s former colonial ruler, has been trying to mediate the crisis and French president Emanuel Macron invited Hariri and his family to the country after his foreign minister met with Saudi King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman about the crisis.
Hariri’s Future TV in Lebanon said Hariri will leave Saudi Arabia tonight.
Meanwhile, Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov warned Friday against foreign interference in Lebanese affairs following Hariri’s resignation.
At a meeting with his Lebanese counterpart, Gibran Bassil, Lavrov said that “Russia invariably stands for supporting the sovereignty, unity and territorial integrity of Lebanon.”
He added that the crisis should be settled internally in Lebanon, without foreign interference, and through dialogue.