In First Interview Since Resigning, Lebanon's Hariri Denies Being Detained in Saudi Arabia

Tearful Saad Hariri promises to return to Lebanon: 'I am here with the clear message that Lebanon comes first'

An image grab taken from the Hariri family-owned Lebanese channel, Future TV, on November 12, 2017, shows Lebanon's resigned prime minister Saad Hariri speaking during an interview from Riyadh.
Saad Hariri, whose resignation as Lebanon's prime minister a week ago sent shockwaves across the region, said Sunday he is "free" in Saudi Arabia and will return to Lebanon "very soon".
 / AFP PHOTO / FUTURE TV / -
-/AFP

Lebanese Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri, who announced his surprise resignation earlier this month from Saudi Arabia, granted an interview on Sunday evening to the Al-Mustaqbal television station.

The interview, the first since his resignation, took place amid speculation that Hariri was forced to resign by Saudi Arabia and that he is being held in the country against his will. 

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According to the TV station, which Hariri owns, the interview was conducted from Hariri's home in Riyadh, the capital of Saudi Arabia. Hariri has not returned to Lebanon since he resigned on November 4.

"I have decided to speak out of concern for Lebanon and concern that sanctions will be imposed on Lebanon," he said. He began the interview with the same messages that he had conveyed in his televized resignation speech, which made reference to the involvement of Iran and the Lebanese Shi'ite Hezbollah militia organization in his country.

Responding to the claim of Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah that the Saudis are inciting Israel to attack Lebanon, Hariri said: "There are statements that cannot be taken seriously. It's impossible to relate to such statements as serious statements."

Lebanese watch an interview with Lebanon's resigned prime minister Saad Hariri at a coffee shop in Beirut on November 12, 2017.
Saad Hariri pledged he would return to Lebanon from Saudi Arabia "very soon," in his first television interview since his shock resignation as prime minister eight days ago. / AFP PHOTO / ANWAR AMRO
ANWAR AMRO/AFP

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Hariri denied in the interview that he was being held against his will in Saudi Arabia, saying that he was there to serve Lebanon's interests, to protect the country from Iran and Hezbollah, who he said are trying to take over Lebanon.

"I will return to Lebanon very soon," he said, without providing a specific date.

"In my resignation message from Riyadh, I wanted to send a harsh message in a manner that would create a political earthquake that would bring about positive results," he said. 

"I am a man who has been threatened my entire life by many forces, including the regime in Syria and including organizations such as the Islamic State and Al-Qaida. I am building a new security network for myself and my safety."

"I am also a family man and don't want my children to go through what I did after the assassination of my father," he said, referring to Rafik Hariri, a former Lebanese prime minister who was killed in Beirut in 2005. "I want to feel secure, and from the moment that I ensure that, I will return to Lebanon. I am a free man in Saudi Arabia, and I can leave whenever I want, but without being confident about my life and the life of my family, I won't return to Lebanon."

Hariri said the king of Saudi Arabia, King Salman, views him as one of his own sons, adding that the Saudi monarch's son, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who has recently become the major power figure in the kingdom, views him as a brother. Lebanon's stability and security as well as its economy are important to both Saudi figures, Hariri said. 

Referring to a recent wave of arrests by Saudi authorities of senior Saudi figures, including members of the royal family, Hariri called it a "Saudi domestic matter" that he was not at all involved with. "The issue of the timing of the arrest of the senior figures and my arrival in Riyadh and the submission of my resignation is entirely coincidental. There is no connection between the two issues. It would have been great if in Lebanon we had been able to arrest all of the corrupt people as they are doing in Saudi Arabia."

At one point in the interview Hariri burst into tears, saying: "I know that there are a considerable number of Lebanese who are concerned about me. I am here with the clear message that Lebanon comes first. There are countries that I am visiting that care more about Lebanon than factions within Lebanon and that pains me very much."

Referring to an adviser of Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei, Hariri said: "In my conversation with an adviser to the Iranian spiritual leader in Beirut before [my] resignation, I made it clear to him that Iran must not intervene in the affairs of Arab countries, including Lebanon via Hezbollah. I am in favor of pluralism and the political activity of parties in Lebanon from every [religious] community, but those parties need to work for the good of Lebanon, not other countries. We in Lebanon have adopted a policy of non-intervention on the subject of other countries, and this policy has been eroded in recent years."