Lebanese President Michel Aoun says Prime Minister Saad Hariri will arrive in France on the weekend as the Mediterranean country is teetering on the brink of a political crisis following his shock resignation announcement in Saudi Arabia earlier this month.
Aoun said in a statement that Hariri and his family would arrive on Saturday in France, “where he will rest for few days” before returning to Beirut to make “a decision regarding the resignation,” Lebanon’s state-run National News Agency reported on Thursday.
The statement came shortly after French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said on Twitter that the Lebanese premier would “soon” pay a visit to Paris.
“Friendly and trusting meeting with Saad Hariri who will soon come to Paris at the invitation of the President (Emmanuel Macron),” Le Drian said.
Le Drian arrived in the Saudi capital of Riyadh on Wednesday evening, where he discussed political developments regarding Lebanon with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. He also held talks with Hariri in person on Thursday.
On Wednesday, Macron invited Hariri and his family to France, apparently as a way-out for him to leave Saudi Arabia amid reports that the Riyadh regime is holding the prime minister against his will.
Top Lebanese officials and senior politicians close to Hariri say he was forced to quit, and is being held by Saudi authorities. All political factions in Lebanon have called for Hariri’s return to Beirut.
Earlier on Thursday, Aoun welcomed Hariri’s decision to accept Macron’s invitation, saying that he hoped it “opened the door for a resolution” of the Lebanon political crisis.
“I wait for the return of Hariri to decide the next move regarding the government,” he said during a meeting with journalists.
Aoun has refused to accept Hariri’s resignation and accused Saudi officials of holding him against his will.
The Lebanese president strongly denounced Hariri’s prolonged stay in Saudi Arabia on Wednesday, saying there was no reason for him not to return to Lebanon.
Also on Thursday, Beirut-based al-Akhbar daily Arabic language newspaper hailed the French proposal to end the political deadlock in Lebanon, writing “Saudi Arabia suffers loss” on its front page.
Meanwhile, Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir “dismissed” allegations that the oil-rich kingdom was holding Hariri against his will.
“The accusation that the kingdom would hold a prime minister or a former prime minister is not true, especially a political ally like” Hariri, Jubeir said during a press conference with his French counterpart in Riyadh.
Hariri announced his resignation in a televised statement on November 4, citing many reasons, including the security situation in Lebanon, for his sudden decision. He also said that he sensed a plot being hatched against his life.
Hariri accused Iran and Lebanese Hezbollah resistance movement of meddling in Arab countries’ affairs; an allegation the two have repeatedly denied.
Hariri became prime minister in 2016 after serving another term between November 2009 and June 2011.
Iran has vehemently rejected Hariri’s remarks, saying his resignation and rehashing of the “unfounded and baseless” allegations regularly leveled by Zionists, Saudis and the US were another scenario to create new tensions in Lebanon and elsewhere in the Middle East.
“The sudden resignation of Mr. Hariri and its announcement in another country are not only regrettable and astonishing, but also indicative of him playing in a court that the ill-wishers in the region have laid out,” Iranian Foreign Ministry Spokesman Bahram Qassemi commented.