Hariri Arrives in Paris With Family Amid Saudi-Iran Tensions

 Hariri Arrives in Paris With Family Amid Saudi-Iran Tensions

Saad Hariri

(Bloomberg) -- Saad Hariri arrived in France with his family amid mounting concern that his country, Lebanon, may once again turn into a battleground for a showdown between Saudi Arabia and Iran.

The Lebanese leader and his family were invited to France by President Emmanuel Macron. On Saturday, Macron and Hariri will meet at noon for talks, following which the Lebanese leader and his family will have lunch at the Elysee Palace.

Hariri then plans to return home for the first time more than two weeks to attend celebrations for independence day on Nov. 22, Lebanon President Michel Aoun said on Twitter Saturday.

Hariri, 47, has been out of the country since his shock resignation announcement from Saudi Arabia on Nov. 4, which sparked fears of an escalating regional conflict between the kingdom and Iran. The Saudi government has denied accusations it was holding Hariri against his will. The kingdom recalled its ambassador to Germany in response to comments made by Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel that the official Saudi Press Agency did not specify.

Hariri weighed in on the spat, suggesting that Gabriel has accused the kingdom of holding him hostage. “To say that I am held up in Saudi Arabia and not allowed to leave the country is a lie. I am on the way to the airport, Mr. Sigmar Gabriel,” he said on Twitter.

In limited public comments and on Twitter, Hariri has sought to dispel speculation that Saudi Arabia asked him to resign because he wouldnt confront Hezbollah, an Iranian-backed Shiite Muslim group that plays a key role in Lebanons fragile government. The group is considered a terrorist organization by countries including Israel and the U.S., and it has provided crucial military support to President Bashar al-Assads regime in Syrias war.

Macron, who met with Saudi Arabia Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in Riyadh, said last week that the two agreed that Hariri “be invited for several days to France.” He also reiterated Frances pledge to help protect Lebanons “independence and autonomy.” Hariri will be welcomed in France “as a friend,” Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said a press conference in Riyadh on Thursday after meeting with Saudi authorities. 

Calming Tensions?

French officials have said they still regard Hariri as Lebanons prime minister since Aoun rejected his resignation on the grounds that it must be handed over on Lebanese soil.

Aoun called Hariri a Saudi “hostage” on Wednesday, and said the developments are “an act of aggression against us and our independence.” As the French initiative unfolded, Aoun said on Twitter that he “hopes the crisis is over.” The “door to a resolution opened with Prime Minister Hariri accepting an invitation to visit France,” he said.

“I recognize all the regional crises that exist, and involve all the powers in the region,” Macron said on Friday. “Its in everyones interest to keep calm, and find an equilibrium.”

Macron and Hariri have met before. In January the then French presidential candidate traveled to Beirut where he said that “France will always stand by Lebanon.” Hariri then said of Macron: “What he represents -- youth, a way of doing politics -- is important,” according to Agence France-Presse.

Old Ties

The two men do not plan to make public comments, according to the Elysee press office. Hariris press office didnt have details on his Paris agenda. Separately, the Saudi crown prince will visit France early next year, Le Drian said at the news conference in Riyadh.

Hariri and his family have deep connections to France, dating back to a friendship forged in the 1980s between Saads father Rafiq and Paris mayor Jacques Chirac, who went on to become president of France.

In 2005, then-President Chirac and his wife flew to Beirut to pay condolences less than 48 hours after Rafiq was killed in a car bombing. Chirac then cut relations with Syria, which he blamed for the attack.

Chirac later lived in a Hariri-owned property in Paris. Saad kept close relations with Presidents Nicolas Sarkozy and Francois Hollande, with the latter awarding him a Commander of the Legion of Honor, one notch below the highest national decoration.

(Updates with Hariris plan to return to Lebanon on Nov. 22 in third paragraph.)

--With assistance from Gregory Viscusi and Dana Khraiche

To contact the reporter on this story: Helene Fouquet in Paris at hfouquet1@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Alaa Shahine at asalha@bloomberg.net, Alan Crawford at acrawford6@bloomberg.net, Steve Geimann, Kim Robert McLaughlin

©2017 Bloomberg L.P.

By: Bloomberg

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