Prime Minister Saad Hariri said he will return to Lebanon for Wednesday’s Independence Day celebrations and explain his situation, after his shock resignation announcement in Saudi Arabia sparked political turmoil.
Speaking after talks in Paris on Saturday with French President Emmanuel Macron, who is seeking to broker a way out of the crisis, Hariri said he would “make known my position” once back in Beirut.
“As you know I have resigned, and we will discuss that in Lebanon,” he told reporters, saying he needed to meet with President Michel Aoun before taking further steps.
The news follows two weeks of deep uncertainty after Hariri’s surprise announcement to step down on November 4.
His failure to return to Lebanon since sparked rumours that he was being held in Riyadh against his will, which both he and Saudi officials denied.
“To say that I am held up in Saudi Arabia and not allowed to leave the country is a lie,” he said in a Twitter post just before flying to Paris overnight.
Hariri’s wife and eldest son Houssam joined him for lunch with Macron at the Elysee Palace, but their two younger children, who live in Saudi Arabia, have remained there “for their school exams”, a source close to the premier said.
After the meeting, Macron’s office said the president will “continue to take all necessary initiatives for Lebanon’s stability.”
“We are helping to ease tensions in the region,” the Elysee Palace added.
Hariri’s mysterious decision to step down – which President Aoun has refused to accept while Hariri remains abroad – has raised fears over Lebanon’s fragile democracy.
Hariri’s camp has sought to allay the concerns, with a source saying the premier had a “fruitful and constructive” meeting with the powerful Saudi crown prince.
Hariri – whose father, ex-prime minister Rafiq Hariri, was killed in a 2005 car bombing blamed on Hezbollah – took over last year as head of a shaky national unity government which includes the powerful Shiite movement.
A dual Saudi citizen who has previously enjoyed Riyadh’s backing, he resigned saying he feared for his life.
He accused Saudi Arabia’s arch-rival Iran and its powerful Lebanese ally Hezbollah of destabilising his country.
Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir meanwhile insisted from Madrid on Friday that “unless Hezbollah disarms and becomes a political party, Lebanon will be held hostage by Hezbollah and, by extension, Iran”.