European officials warn against foreign interventions in Lebanese affairs, calling for unity in the country.
The European Union on Monday urged Saad al-Hariri to return to Lebanon, calling on all political forces inside the country to focus on the domestic agenda and warning Saudi Arabia against meddling.
Hariri’s resignation, announced from Riyadh, and its aftermath have put Lebanon at the forefront of regional rivalry between Iran and Saudi Arabia in recent days.
“We appeal first of all to the political forces to focus on Lebanon and what they can deliver to their citizens, Prime Minister Hariri to return to his country and the unity government … to focus on domestic achievements,” the bloc’s top diplomat, Federica Mogherini, told reporters after hosting a meeting of all 28 EU foreign ministers in Brussels.
Hariri, who resigned saying he feared assassination in Lebanon, has criticised the Iran-backed Hezbollah and said he would rescind his resignation if the group agreed to stay out of regional conflicts. But top Lebanese government officials and senior sources close to Hariri say Saudi Arabia coerced him into resigning and has put him under effective house arrest since he flew there more than a week ago
France’s foreign minister, speaking on the sidelines of the ministerial gathering in Brussels, also called on other countries not to interfere in Lebanon.
“To reach a political solution in Lebanon, all political figures must have complete freedom of movement,” Jean-Yves Le Drian told reporters when asked about Hariri, echoing an earlier statement by his ministry, which suggested that Hariri may not be free.
Germany’s Sigmar Gabriel also said Hariri should return as his departure has shaken Lebanon.
Luxembourg’s Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn warned Riyadh that a meltdown in Lebanon would further destabilise the tumultuous Middle East, adding that “a hostage crisis, if that is what is happening with the Lebanese prime minister in Saudi Arabia, is not very good news for the region”.
The European statements came following a warning by the US State Department against using Lebanon as a proxy in regional conflicts. On Monday, the Lebanese Maronite Patriarch Beshara al-Rai arrived in Saudi Arabia in a historic visit.
An official visit to Saudi Arabia by such a senior non-Muslim cleric is a rare act of religious openness for the kingdom, which hosts the holiest sites in Islam and bans the practice of other religions but says it wants to open up more to the world.
It is also the first trip to Riyadh by a senior Lebanese official since Hariri’s resignation as on 4 November. During his visit, Rai plans to meet Hariri as well as King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, both of whom he praised in an address to Lebanese expatriates living in Riyadh.
“Certainly his resignation surprised the Lebanese and saddened them and created a type of deadlock,” he later told reporters between selfies with followers. “We hope that with this visit we can speak about this topic.”