Hussein Dakroub| The Daily Star
BEIRUT: Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s decision to return to Lebanon very soon has evoked nationwide relief, defusing tensions fueled by his shock resignation. But, it has also revived calls for Hezbollah’s compliance with the government’s dissociation policy toward regional conflicts as an essential move for ending the political stalemate. In Paris, the French presidency welcomed Hariri’s comment that he would soon be returning to Lebanon. Paris sees “a certain easing” in the situation, the Elysee Palace said in a statement, while adding that it remains to be seen “what is really going to happen in the coming days.” The statement said that the path to overcoming the current crisis is through Hariri’s return to Lebanon.
Meanwhile, Maronite Patriarch Beshara Rai arrived in Riyadh Monday on what was described as an “historic visit” – the first to the kingdomby a Lebanese Christian religious leader.
Rai is scheduled to begin his official meetings Tuesday by meeting first with Saudi King Salman bin Abdel-Aziz and later with Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, who will host a luncheon for the patriarch and the accompanying delegation, the National News Agency reported.
Rai is also set to meet with Hariri before leaving Riyadh Tuesday evening for Rome to participate in a number of church meetings there, the NNA reported.
Speaking to reporters at Beirut airport before departing for Riyadh, Rai praised Hariri’s decision to return to Lebanon, saying this move would restore normal life to the country, which was gripped by uncertainty following Hariri’s surprise resignation on Nov. 4. He said the Lebanese have been worried since Hariri’s resignation, adding that he would raise the matter with the Saudi king and crown prince. “The Lebanese people have been waiting for him [Hariri] to return because the situation has been paralyzed. The entire Lebanese people have been unsettled. They will not rest until Prime Minister Hariri returns so that life can return to normal,” Rai said.
Commenting on Hariri’s televised interview Sunday night in which he announced he would return to Lebanon very soon, Rai said: “What all of us have heard was reassuring. I personally was reassured and very satisfied with what he said.”
President Michel Aoun also welcomed Hariri’s statements, saying he hoped the prime minister would return to Lebanon soon.
“I was happy with Prime Minister Hariri’s announcement that he would return to Lebanon soon,” Aoun said, speaking to visitors at Baabda Palace. “I am awaiting this return to discuss with the prime minister the issue of the resignation, the reasons for it and the circumstances, issues and concerns that need to be addressed.”
“The national and diplomatic campaign waged by Lebanon to resolve the mystery over Prime Minister Hariri’s status in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has produced positive results,” Aoun said, according to a statement released by his media office.
He added that Hariri’s comments that he might walk back from his resignation were “positive.” Aoun also said that Hariri’s remarks indicated that the political settlement underpinning Lebanon’s coalition government still stood.
The Future Movement’s parliamentary bloc expressed “great satisfaction” with Hariri’s decision to return to Lebanon, reaffirmed its commitment to Lebanon’s dissociation policy and criticized Iran’s meddling in the affairs of regional states.
“The bloc valued Prime Minister Hariri’s televised appearance yesterday [Sunday] as that of a statesman of the caliber of veteran statesmen Lebanon has known, which reaffirmed his distinguished position in the national Lebanese equation,” a statement issued after the bloc’s meeting chaired by former Prime Minister Fouad Siniora said.
“Furthermore, it [the interview] drew clear and responsible lines on the path that needs to be followed in order to pull Lebanon out of the game of regional and international axes, namely reaffirming commitment to the dissociation policy toward struggles and wars raging in the region, including rejection of all kinds of intervention by Iran and its tools in the internal affairs of all brotherly Arab countries,” the statement added.
Speaking on Future Television from Riyadh Sunday night in his first interview with since he announced his resignation in a televised speech from the Saudi capital on Nov. 4, Hariri pledged to return to Beirut in the next “two or three days” to meet with Aoun and undertake the necessary constitutional procedures concerning his resignation.
He offered to withdraw his resignation provided that Hezbollah comply with the government’s dissociation policy toward regional conflicts. He stressed that compliance with the dissociation policy was the key to maintaining stability in Lebanon. Hariri also defended the political settlement that led to Aoun’s election as president and his return to the premiership last year.
In announcing his resignation, Hariri cited Iran’s growing influence and interference in the region and fears for his life. Hariri has been in the Saudi capital since Nov. 3 when he arrived there on his second visit the kingdom in one week.
His resignation, which sent shockwaves across Lebanon and the region, came amid spiraling tensions between Saudi Arabia and its regional rival Iran, which back opposing sides in power struggles from Syria, Iraq and Yemen to Lebanon.
For his part, Speaker Nabih Berri said that justice was served when Hariri hinted at withdrawing his resignation. “There is justice in backing off on the resignation,” Berri said in a statement released by his media office.
Lebanese Forces chief Samir Geagea said compliance with the dissociation policy was the key to rescuing the political settlement that led to Aoun’s election and Hariri’s reappointment as prime minister. “It is still possible to salvage the political settlement if the government actually and practically abides by the dissociation policy, especially with regard to Hezbollah’s withdrawal from Syria and the crises of the region,” Geagea tweeted.
In Riyadh, Hariri met with more diplomats at his residence in the Saudi capital. Hariri met with the head of the European Union delegation in Saudi Arabia Michele Cervone D’Urso, before meeting with German Ambassador Dieter Walter Haller and British Ambassador Simon Collis, a statement from Hariri’s media office said.
Meanwhile, France, Germany and the EU called for an end to external interference in Lebanon following Hariri’s resignation. The EU’s diplomatic chief Federica Mogherini said a meeting of the bloc’s foreign ministers in Brussels Monday had voiced unanimous support for Lebanon’s “unity and stability.”
“We expect no external interference in this national agenda and we believe it is essential to avoid importing into Lebanon regional conflicts, regional dynamics, regional tensions,” Mogherini said, adding that she would meet Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil in Brussels Tuesday.
In Tehran, a spokesman for Iran’s Foreign Ministry categorically denied interfering in Lebanon’s politics. “Lebanon’s internal affairs concern Lebanon, and we never intervene in the internal affairs of other countries,” Bahram Ghassemi said. “Hariri’s resignation was sudden and suspect, but we hope that with his interview last night, he will return to Lebanon as soon as possible so that the legal process of his resignation can be applied.”