France, Germany and the EU yesterday called for an end to external interference in Lebanon, after the country’s prime minister resigned unexpectedly, triggering rumours he was being held against his will in Saudi Arabia.
Saad Hariri sent shock waves through Lebanon when he unexpectedly quit as prime minister a week ago, though on Sunday he rejected rumours he was under de facto house arrest in Riyadh, insisting he was “free” and would return home soon.
His resignation came as tensions rise between Riyadh and Tehran, which back opposing sides from Lebanon and Syria to Yemen.
The EU’s diplomatic chief Federica Mogherini said that a meeting of the bloc’s foreign ministers in Brussels yesterday 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 that have to stay out of the country,” Mogherini said, adding that she would meet Lebanese Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil in Brussels today.
She said outside interference in Lebanon was a “current and always existing threat”. French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said France was “worried by the situation in Lebanon” and wanted to see the government there “stabilise as quickly as possible”.“For there to be a political solution in Lebanon, it is necessary that all of the political leaders have total freedom of movement and that non-interference is a fundamental principle,” Le Drian said as he arrived for the EU foreign ministers’ gathering in Brussels.
German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel said there was a danger of Lebanon falling back into “political and sometimes military confrontations”.
“In order to prevent this we need especially the return of the current prime minister, reconciliation in the country and the prevention of influence from outside,” he said.
“Lebanon has earned the right to decide on its fate by itself and not become a pinball of Syria or Saudi Arabia or other national interests,” Gabriel said in Brussels.
Other Western countries have moved to express their support for Hariri, with US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson calling him a “strong partner”.
Tillerson warned against “any party, within or outside Lebanon, using Lebanon as a venue for proxy conflicts or in any manner contributing to instability in that country”.
President welcomes Hariri’s plan to return
Lebanese President Michel Aoun, who has refused to accept Saad Hariri’s resignation as prime minister unless Hariri returns from Saudi Arabia, welcomed comments from Hariri that he plans to come home soon, palace sources and visitors said yesterday.
Hariri, who threw Lebanon into political crisis by reading out his resignation on Nov 4 from Riyadh, gave his first public remarks since then in an interview late on Sunday, saying he planned to return within days. He suggested he could even withdraw his resignation, provided the Hezbollah renounces interference in conflicts across the Middle East.
Aoun has said he believes Hariri does not have free control over his own movements while in Saudi Arabia, and that this casts doubt on any statements Hariri makes.
Nevertheless those close to Aoun said the president welcomed Hariri’s comments.
“President Aoun expressed his pleasure at Hariri’s announcement of his return to Lebanon soon,” a source said. Aoun said that Hariri was “leaving all doors open including rescinding his resignation”, according to one of a group of visitors who met Aoun. The visitors declined to be identified while discussing the closed-door conversations.
The visitors quoted Aoun as saying that Hariri’s remarks showed that the political deal underpinning Lebanon’s coalition government — which includes both Hariri’s party and the Hezbollah — still stands.
Aoun has been convening high level meetings with Lebanese politicians and diplomats since Hariri stepped down, and the visitors said the president believed that Hariri’s comments showed such efforts were working. Nearly 24 hours after Hariri’s interview, which appeared on a TV station he owns, Hezbollah had still not commented on his remarks. In his resignation speech Hariri, whose father, also a former prime minister, was killed by a bomb in 2005, said he feared assassination.
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