Back in Lebanon, Prime Minister Hariri Delays Resignation

Hariri holds first meeting with President Aoun since announcing surprise resignation from Saudi Arabia ■ Cyprus says will attempt to help defuse Lebanon crisis

Saad Hariri attends a military parade to celebrate the 74th anniversary of Lebanon's independence in downtown Beirut, Lebanon, November 22, 2017.
Saad Hariri attends a military parade to celebrate the 74th anniversary of Lebanon's independence in downtown Beirut, Lebanon, November 22, 2017. MOHAMED AZAKIR/REUTERS

Lebanon's Saad Hariri said on Wednesday that he was suspending his decision to resign as prime minister at the request of Lebanese President Michel Aoun to allow for dialogue, easing a major political crisis. 

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Hariri made his announcement after returning to Beirut on Tuesday night for the first time since his November 4 shock resignation in a statement broadcast from Saudi Arabia.

He said all Lebanese parties must commit to keeping Lebanon out of regional conflicts, a reference to the powerful, Iran-backed group Hezbollah whose regional role is a source of deep concern in Saudi Arabia. He said he hoped his decision would open "a new gateway for a responsible dialogue." 

Saad Hariri greets Lebanese President Michel Aoun as he attends a military parade to celebrate the 74th anniversary of Lebanon's independence in downtown Beirut, Lebanon, November 22, 2017.
MOHAMED AZAKIR/REUTERS
Lebanese prime minister Saad Hariri, President Michel Aoun and House Speaker Nabih Berri attend a military parade on independence day in downtown Beirut, Lebanon, November 22, 2017.
ANWAR AMRO/AFP
Supporters of Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri wave the Future Movement flags as they celebrate his return, Beirut, Lebanon, November 21, 2017.
FADEL ITANI/AFP

"I presented today my resignation to President Aoun and he urged me to wait before offering it and to hold onto it for more dialogue about its reasons and political background, and I showed responsiveness," Hariri said in a televised statement. 

Later on Wednesday, Hariri told hundreds of supporters gathered outside his home in central Beirut that he would continue to stand by them. "I am staying with you and will continue with you...to be a line of defense for Lebanon, Lebanon's stability and Lebanon's Arabism," he told the group.

In response to Hariri's earlier announcement, Cyprus said it would attempt to undertake intiatives to help defuse the crisis in Lebanon. On his way back to Beirut, Hariri had stopped on the island for an unexpected and brief meeting with Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades.

"Our common objective is stability in Lebanon, stability in our area. Within this context... the President of the Republic will undertake some initiatives precisely to promote this objective; stability in Lebanon," Cypriot government spokesman Nikos Christodoulides said.

The Hezbollah-affiliated newspaper Al-Akhbar reported Wednesday that Hariri's decision to delay his resignation is linked to an initiative of French President Emmanuel Macron and Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah al-Sissi to prevent a government vacuum in Lebanon and to keep Hariri in his post.

Hariri held talks with al-Sissi at the presidential palace in Cairo on Tuesday before his lightning visit to Cyprus. A cryptic statement by the Lebanese leader's press office later said the two discussed the "latest developments in Lebanon and the region."

Afterward, Hariri said he had a "long conversation" with al-Sissi that focused on the need to maintain Lebanon's stability and the need to keep the country away from "all regional policies."

The visit to Cairo followed a trip to Paris, where Hariri met with Macron, who is trying to mediate in the Middle East to avert a proxy conflict in Lebanon between Iranian-backed and Saudi-backed camps. 

In a rare statement, Macron's office said he had talked to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Iranian President Hassan Rohani separately on the matter, telling them both that it was vital to keep Lebanon disassociated from regional crises.

Hariri's resignation pitched Lebanon to the forefront of the regional tussle between Sunni Muslim Saudi Arabia and Shi'ite Islamist Iran, which backs the powerful Lebanese group Hezbollah.

Lebanese state officials and senior politicians close to Hariri say Riyadh forced him to quit and held him in the kingdom, which Saudi Arabia and Hariri have denied. The resignation took even Hariri's aides by surprise. Hariri's return to Lebanon followed an intervention by France. 

A long-time Saudi ally, Hariri cited fear of assassination in his resignation speech, and attacked Iran and its powerful Lebanese ally Hezbollah for sowing strife in the Arab world.