First Published: 2017-11-13

Free Hariri says will return to Lebanon ‘very soon’
Lebanese PM brushes aside rumours that he is under de facto house arrest in Saudi Arabia.
Middle East Online

"I am free here. If I want to travel tomorrow, I will"

BEIRUT - Saad Hariri, whose resignation as Lebanon's prime minister a week ago sent shockwaves across the region, said Sunday he is "free" in Saudi Arabia and will return to Lebanon "very soon".

In an interview from Riyadh with his party's Future TV, Hariri brushed aside rumours that he was under de facto house arrest in the kingdom, from which he announced his surprise departure.

"I am free here. If I want to travel tomorrow, I will," Hariri said.

"I will return to Lebanon very soon," Hariri said, adding later that he would land in Beirut "in two or three days".

Hariri, 47, announced he was stepping down from his post in a televised address on November 4 from Riyadh, and has yet to return to his native Lebanon.

However, Lebanese President Michel Aoun has yet to formally accept his resignation and said the premier has been "restricted" in his movements.

Hariri's 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, Hariri accused Iran and its Lebanese ally Hezbollah of taking over his country and destabilising 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 repeated 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 next Sunday at the request of Saudi Arabia to discuss "violations" by Iran in the region, according to a document shown to AFP by diplomats on Sunday.

- 'Rescind resignation' -

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

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," 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 Hariri is opposed.

Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah said Friday that Hariri was "detained in Saudi Arabia, he is banned from returning to Lebanon".

- 'Excellent' ties with Saudi -

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.

He left the kingdom once for a trip to Abu Dhabi.

In his interview on Sunday, Hariri said he has "excellent" ties with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in an apparent effort to put to rest rumours that the Saudi crown prince had pressured him to step down.

"Really, I consider him a brother and he considers me a brother. It's an excellent and special relationship," he said.

But 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 premier's father Rafik made his fortune in Saudi Arabia and also served as premier for years before he was assassinated in 2005.

Saad cited fears for his life when he resigned from his post last week, less than a year after his unity government was formed with Hezbollah.

Lebanese have expressed concern that the move could thrust the country into a political and economic tailspin, as it remains unclear who could replace Hariri.

Western countries moved quickly to express their support for the premier, with US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson calling him a "strong partner".

Tillerson warned against any party "using Lebanon as a venue for proxy conflicts or in any manner contributing to instability in that country".

 

Assad in Russia for talks with Putin

Islamic republic declares end of Islamic State

Revolt in US State Department over child soldier law

Anti-IS coalition strikes drop to lowest number

Morocco bans bitcoin transactions

Lebanon's Hariri in Egypt ahead of return home

Rebels say Sanaa airport 'ready to run' after coalition bombing

Greece to amend historic sharia law for Muslim minority

Turkey to ask Germany to extradite top coup suspect

Car bomb in northern Iraq kills at least 24

13 million Syrians need aid despite relative drop in violence

Sudan urged to improve plight of Darfur's displaced people

Brain drain means Syria can’t recover for a generation

Palestinians close communication lines with Americans

German police arrest six Syrians ‘planning terror attack’

Palestinian factions in Cairo for reconciliation talks

Turkish opposition daily web editor sentenced to 3 years in jail

Israeli police arrest 33 in ultra-Orthodox draft riots

Turkish lira at new low against US dollar

UN chief horrified by Libya slave auctions

Qatar 2022 chief has no regrets over hosting World Cup

Gheit says Lebanon should be 'spared' from regional tensions

Saudi Arabia, Arab allies push for unity against Iran, Hezbollah meddling

Syria ‘de-escalation zone’ does nothing to stop civilian deaths

Is a demilitarised Palestinian state a viable option?

S&P affirms good Saudi credit ratings

Israel president faces big backlash over Palestinian scarf

Sudan leader to visit Russia Thursday

Seven years into Libya’s civil war, the chaos continues

Iraq top court declares Kurd referendum unconstitutional

Libya to investigate 'slave auction' footage

15 women killed in food aid crush in Morocco

Lebanon FM will not attend Arab League Iran summit

Syrian forces liberate Albu Kamal from IS

Israel votes to shut migrant centre, deport Africans

Diplomats from Iran, Russia, Turkey discuss Syria

Libya to investigate ‘slave auction’ footage

Piece by piece, Iran moves towards a ‘new empire’

Netanyahu faces new questioning over corruption case

Syria troops, allies retake most of Albu Kamal from IS

EU cuts funding to Turkey in 2018 budget

Lebanon's Hariri arrives in Paris

Egypt opens Gaza border for first time since unity deal

US-Russia rift threatens fragile prospects for Syria peace

'Caliphate' in tatters but IS still a threat