Lebanese PM Hariri Lands in Saudi Arabia for First Time Since Crown Prince 'Forced Resignation'

Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri arrives in Saudi Arabia in what is his first visit since his withdrawn resignation from Riyadh last November

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A handout picture provided by the Lebanese photo agency Dalati and Nohra shows Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri meeting with head of the Saudi envoy Nizar al-Alula at the governmental palace in the capital Beirut, on February 26, 2018.
Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri meeting with head of the Saudi envoy Nizar al-Alula at the governmental palace in Beirut, on February 26, 2018.Credit: STRINGER/AFP

Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri has landed in Saudi Arabia in his first visit to the kingdom since his now-reversed resignation from Riyadh late last year in a bizarre sequence of events that deeply strained relations between the two countries.

Hariri arrived in Saudi Arabia early Wednesday, and is expected to meet the king and his powerful crown prince. His visit followed an invite by a Saudi envoy who visited Hariri in Beirut.

Relations between Hariri and Saudi rulers took a major hit last year. Hariri reversed his resignation — submitted from the kingdom — upon returning to Beirut, saying he reached a domestic deal to distance Lebanon from regional conflicts.

From the moment Hariri’s plane touched down in Saudi Arabia on Friday Nov. 3, he was in for a surprise.

There was no line-up of Saudi princes or ministry officials, as would typically greet a prime minister on an official visit to King Salman, senior sources close to Hariri and top Lebanese political and security officials said. His phone was confiscated, and the next day he was forced to resign as prime minister in a statement broadcast by a Saudi-owned TV channel.

The move thrust Lebanon back to the forefront of a struggle that is reshaping the Middle East, between the conservative Sunni monarchy of Saudi Arabia and Shi‘ite revolutionary Iran.

Sources close to Hariri said at the time that Saudi Arabia concluded the prime minister - a long-time Saudi ally and son of late prime minister Rafik al-Hariri, who was assassinated in 2005 - had to go because he was unwilling to confront Hezbollah.

Multiple Lebanese sources say Riyadh hopes to replace Saad Hariri with his older brother Bahaa as Lebanon’s top Sunni politician. Bahaa is believed to be in Saudi Arabia and members of the Hariri family have been asked to travel there to pledge allegiance to him, but have refused, the sources say.

Saudi Arabia has dismissed suggestions it forced Hariri to resign and Hariri's current visit is likely to boost relations with his Saudi backers.

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