Hariri Detention Act of Aggression Versus Lebanon, Aoun Says

(Bloomberg) -- Lebanon’s president accused Saudi Arabia of holding Prime Minister Saad Hariri against his will in an “act of aggression” against his country’s sovereignty.

“We will not accept that he remain a hostage,” Michel Aoun said Wednesday in a statement carried by LBCI TV. Aoun, an ally of the Iranian-backed Hezbollah group, questioned why Saudi officials haven’t explained the circumstances of Hariri’s shock Nov. 4 resignation announcement during a sudden trip to Riyadh.

Aoun said that during a phone call that same day, Hariri had assured him he’d return to Lebanon in two to three days. The president said he hadn’t been able to communicate with Hariri since.

In televised comments aired later, Aoun said Hariri isn’t free to “express himself” and “we now have the right to take the measures that will get him out of there.” Aoun added: “This is an act of aggression against us and our independence.” He said that Hariri’s family were also detained.

Hariri has sought to dispel speculation that Saudi Arabia summoned him to Riyadh and broadsided him with a demand to resign because he wouldn’t confront Hezbollah -- a charge the kingdom has denied. Still, his resignation has thrust fragile Lebanon, historically a battleground for proxy conflicts, into a showdown between the Middle East’s top powers, Saudi Arabia and Iran.

The president has sent Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil on a tour of European capitals. In remarks from Rome, Bassil said the latest developments jeopardize the stability of Lebanon and, by extension, that of the region. He said Lebanon shouldn’t return to being a country where “external forces and foreign countries settle their accounts.”

Lawmaker Message

“If Saudi Arabia has a problem with Iran or with Hezbollah they have to solve it with Iran, not with Lebanon and not with all the Lebanese,” Bassil said at a news conference with his Italian counterpart.

Oqab Saqr, a lawmaker representing Hariri’s Future Movement, said Hariri had sent him a message saying he and his family haven’t been detained and that the kingdom doesn’t harbor hostile intentions toward Lebanon.

Earlier on Twitter Wednesday, Hariri reiterated his intention to return to Lebanon “as I have promised you,” a promise he first made on Sunday in a television interview with his family’s Future TV.

The tussle over Hariri, and its potential impact on Lebanon’s delicate power structure, has created the potential for new conflict in the war-torn Middle East. French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian is scheduled to meet Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman on Wednesday, and will hold talks with Hariri the following day, according to French diplomats.

©2017 Bloomberg L.P.