Hussein Dakroub & Hassan Lakkis| The Daily Star
BEIRUT: Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s return to Lebanon is the key to resolving the current political stalemate brought on by his surprise resignation from the premiership last week, officials said Tuesday.
Meanwhile, Hariri instead returned to Riyadh Tuesday after paying a short visit to Abu Dhabi where he met with the emirate’s crown prince, a statement issued by the premier’s media office said.
Hariri and Abu Dhabi’s Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammad bin Zayed al-Nahyan discussed brotherly relations and developments in Lebanon, the statement added, without giving further details.
But the official Emirates News Agency WAM said Hariri briefed the crown prince on the situation in Lebanon following his resignation.
“Sheikh Mohammad said the United Arab Emirates stood on Lebanon’s side to cope with regional challenges and intervention facing the country, which are hindering the road to construction and development and threatening the safety and security of its brotherly people,” WAM said.
The Abu Dhabi crown prince wished Hariri “success in pulling Lebanon out of its current crisis and achieving the aspirations of the Lebanese people for a secure and honorable life.”
Hariri’s talks with Abu Dubai’s crown prince and his meeting in Riyadh Monday with Saudi King Salman bin Abdul-Aziz al-Saud dispelled rumors that he was under house arrest in the Saudi capital.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani spoke by telephone with President Michel Aoun to discuss current developments and other issues following Hariri’s resignation, a statement from Aoun’s media office said.
Al-Mayadeen satellite channel reported that Rouhani told Aoun that “unity between the Lebanese people guaranteed overcoming internal strife and regional problems.”
Meanwhile, the United States said it wasn’t aware of Hariri’s resignation ahead of time, but assured the Lebanese government of its support while reiterating its designation of Hezbollah as a terrorist organization.“We didn’t receive a prior notice about the decision of Lebanon’s premier to resign,” local media reported the State Department as saying.
In a televised recording of the question and answer session of the press briefing, a spokesperson for the State Department said that “our relationship with the government will not change and we will follow and monitor the situation.”
She added that: “Lebanon overall is a strong partner of the U.S., they have strong national state institutions ... and the U.S. strongly supports the strong legitimate institutions in the Lebanese state. We expect all members of the international community to respect these institutions and the sovereignty and political balance of Lebanon.”
Moscow expressed concern over developments in Lebanon following Hariri’s resignation, the Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement.
It called on regional rivals – a reference to Saudi Arabia and Iran – that exert influence on Lebanon, to show restraint.
“We hope that in the current worrisome stage the Lebanese will be able to agree on a solution that preserves civil peace and stability in Lebanon and the security of this state and the Middle East region in general,” the statement, which was carried by Lebanon’s National News Agency, said.
“At the same time, we call on all external powers that wield influence on developments of the situation in Lebanon to show restraint and take constructive attitudes, because this is extremely important amid the complicated situation in the region in general,” the statement added.
In Beirut, the Future Movement’s parliamentary bloc said that it was awaiting Hariri’s return, hours after former Prime Minister Fouad Siniora said Hariri would come back to Beirut.
“The Future bloc followed up Saudi King Salman bin Abdul-Aziz’s meeting with Prime Minister Saad Hariri yesterday [Monday] and also Prime Minister Hariri’s meeting today [Tuesday] with Abu Dhabi’s Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammad bin Zayed al-Nahyan,” a statement issued after the bloc’s weekly meeting chaired by Siniora said.
“The bloc hopes Lebanon will emerge from the crisis through which it is passing now in the absence of the prime minister. The bloc is waiting for the return of Prime Minister Hariri,” the statement said, adding that the bloc has decided to keep its meetings open.
“The Future bloc’s priority now is for Prime Minister Hariri’s return to Lebanon. His return is the key to resolving the crisis over his resignation,” a Future parliamentary source told The Daily Star.
Earlier in the day, Siniora said he was in contact with Hariri, adding that the prime minister would return to Beirut.
“Priority is for his return and later for solving the accumulated problems with further unity,” Siniora said after meeting with Aoun at Baabda Palace.
He added that he had spoken with Hariri as recently as Monday night. Siniora said the Future bloc would stand on Hariri’s side and would nominate him again for the premiership.
Aoun launched Tuesday a flurry of consultations at Baabda Palace with former presidents, former premiers and heads of parliamentary blocs aimed at containing the reverberations of Hariri’s resignation and exploring a solution for the crisis caused by the resignation.
The president is seeking through these consultations to promote national unity as the best means to overcome the resignation crisis, a source at Baabda Palace told The Daily Star. Most of the leaders Aoun had met underlined the need for maintaining national unity and stable security.
Aoun has so far not accepted Hariri’s resignation, saying that he will wait for the prime minister’s return to Lebanon before making any decision on the matter. Aoun is set to meet Wednesday with independent lawmakers, a delegation of Muslim scholars and civil organizations to consult with them on a solution for the resignation crisis.
Local media outlets reported Aoun will also meet Thursday with representatives of the member states of the U.N. Security Council as well as Arab ambassadors, a source at Baabda Palace said, adding that the president was expected to make a declaration following these consultations. No official date has been announced for the Security Council member states meetings.
Hariri announced his resignation from the premiership in a televised speech from Riyadh last Saturday, citing Iran’s growing influence and interference in the region and fears of his life.
Justice Minister Salim Jreissati from the Free Patriotic Movement said his party was also waiting for Hariri’s return, and reassured the Lebanese of the country’s security and stability in the wake of the resignation.
“There is no fear, but stable security and political, financial and economic stability,” Jreissati said after meeting with a Hezbollah delegation. “Everything is under control. Therefore, I reassure [the Lebanese people] that the trend is for peace, calm and containing the repercussions [of the resignation] pending Hariri’s return.”
The Baabda consultations came as Saudi Arabia has signaled its strong rejection of Hezbollah’s participation in a new government. Saudi Minister of State for Arab Gulf Affairs Thamer al-Sabhan, an outspoken critic of Hezbollah, said in a tweet Monday that Lebanon would never be the same after Hariri’s resignation, suggesting that the next Lebanese government should not include Hezbollah representatives. Sabhan, who has labeled Hezbollah the “party of Satan” and “a terrorist militia” in his tweets, has called for the party’s expulsion from the Lebanese government.
Speaking to the Dubai-based Saudi Al-Arabiya channel, Sabhan said Saudi Arabia would treat a government that includes Hezbollah representatives as a government of war against the kingdom.