BEIRUT: Saad Hariri, whose resignation as Lebanon’s prime minister a week ago sent shockwaves across the region, said Sunday (Monday in Manila) he is “free” in Saudi Arabia and will return to Lebanon “very soon.”
In an interview from Riyadh with his party’s Future TV, Hariri brushed aside rumors that he was under de facto house arrest in the kingdom, from which he announced his surprise departure.
“I am free here. If I want to travel tomorrow, I will,” Hariri said.
“I will return to Lebanon very soon,” Hariri said, adding later that he would land in Beirut “in two or three days.”
Hariri, 47, announced he was stepping down from his post in a televised address on November 4 from Riyadh, and has yet to return to his native Lebanon.
However, Lebanese President Michel Aoun has yet to formally accept his resignation and said the premier has been “restricted” in his movements.
Hariri’s surprise resignation came as tensions rise between Riyadh and Tehran, which back opposing sides in power struggles from Lebanon and Syria to Yemen.
At the time, Hariri accused Iran and its Lebanese ally Hezbollah of taking over his country and destabilizing the broader region.
“We cannot continue in Lebanon in a situation where Iran interferes in all Arab countries, and that there’s a political faction that interferes alongside it,” he repeated on Sunday in apparent reference to rival movement Hezbollah.
“Maybe there’s a regional conflict between Arab countries and Iran. We’re a small country. Why put ourselves in the middle?”
As tensions heated up, the Arab League said it would hold an extraordinary meeting next Sunday at the request of Saudi Arabia to discuss “violations” by Iran in the region, according to a document shown to Agence France-Presse by diplomats on Sunday.
Wearing a suit and tie and with a Lebanese flag in the background, the former premier looked tired on Sunday and spoke softly but firmly throughout the interview.
Hariri, who also holds Saudi citizenship, told journalist Paula Yaacoubian that he wrote his resignation himself and wanted to submit it in Lebanon, “but there was danger.”
He also appeared to lay down an exit strategy, saying he would be willing to “rescind the resignation” if intervention in regional conflicts stopped.
“We need to respect the disassociation policy,” Hariri said, referring to an agreement among Lebanese political factions that they would not interfere in Syria’s six-year war.
He appeared to be alluding to Hezbollah’s military intervention on behalf of the Syrian government, to which Hariri is opposed.
Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah said Friday that Hariri was “detained in Saudi Arabia, he is banned from returning to Lebanon.”
Hariri has spent the past week in a string of meetings with diplomats and Saudi officials in Riyadh, including an encounter with Saudi King Salman.
He left the kingdom once for a trip to Abu Dhabi.
In his interview on Sunday, Hariri said he has “excellent” ties with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in an apparent effort to put to rest rumors that the Saudi crown prince had pressured him to step down.