The man who served as Lebanon’s most recent prime minister announced Sunday night that he is “free” in Saudi Arabia and could, if he chose, return to Lebanon very soon, in “two or three days.” In fact, he said he would return in order to legally submit his resignation in accordance with Lebanon’s Constitution, the Arabic-language Al-Mayadeen website reported.
He reassured his supporters Sunday night in a broadcast interview on Future TV, owned and operated by his “Future” party. He said that he himself wrote the resignation speech that he delivered on Nov. 4 over Al Arabiya television from Riyadh, choosing to flee Lebanon rather than step down officially in Beirut, because “there was danger.” Hariri said, “If you want me to return, I can return today, but all I want is to protect myself for you… I am free here,” he said, speaking from Riyadh, where he holds Saudi citizenship in addition to that of Lebanon.
Sa’ad Hariri, 47, went on to explain about his recent visit to the United Arab Emirates, saying it lasted a number of hours. “The visit was a special meeting to explain my position about the resignation, and to protect Lebanon’s position.”
Hariri noted that he had met with Iranian Minister for International Affairs Ali Akbar Velayati in Beirut shortly before traveling to Saudi Arabia to announce his resignation. He said he told the Iranian official that “interventions in other Arab countries is unacceptable.” He denied having been threatened by Iran, however, saying, “There was no threat to me by any state.”
But he stressed the need for Iran to desist from interfering with the affairs of Lebanon and other Arab nations, stressing that the Saudi king always asks about the bests interests of Lebanon and emphasizes the need to distance himself.
“What will happen to some 400,000 Lebanese in the Gulf if we allow ourselves to be placed ourselves in the Axis?” he asked viewers. “Lebanon is required to maintain its neutrality, and to distance itself from the regional conflicts” — a point he said has “not been respected by Hezbollah.”
He pointed out that Saudi Arabia helped Lebanon with its economy, its power and water infrastrure. He asked, “What have the others give us? What did they do for Syria? Have we seen any power stations built?” Hariri added that after the 2006 war with Israel, Saudi Arabia helped Lebanon rebuild.
He stressed his solid relationship with the Saudi monarchy, in particular with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman — who was rumored to have pressured the Lebanese prime minister to resign — saying the two enjoyed “excellent” relations. “Really I consider him a brother and he considers me a brother,” he said. “King Salman treats me like a son.”
Hariri also appeared to present an option for returning to his post, saying he would “rescind the resignation” if the political factions would “respect the disassociation policy” — a reference to Hezbollah’s taking up arms to defend Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, which Hariri vehemently opposes.
As for his return to his post, he said, “We cannot continue in Lebanon in a situation where Iran interferes in all Arab countries, and there’s a political faction that interferes along with it” — a clear reference to the Iranian proxy group Hezbollah, which has two ministers in the Lebanese coalition government despite being Hariri rivals, in addition to an entire faction in the Lebanese parliament.
In his Nov. 4 speech from Riyadh on Al Arabiya to announce his resignation, Hariri had blamed Iran and Hezbollah for his decision, pointing to the “chaos and destruction” in the region caused by the Islamic Republic and its proxy groups.
For his part, British Foreign Minister Boris Johnson said he hoped that Saad Hariri returns to Beirut, “without any further delay.” Johnson said in a statement that he spoke with Lebanese Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil on Sunday and assured him again of Britain’s support for Lebanon. Johnson said Lebanon should not be used for proxy conflicts, and that its independence should be respected.