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Hariri: Relationship With Iran "Has to Be the Best"
National

Hariri: Relationship With Iran "Has to Be the Best"

Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri said his country's relationship with Iran "has to be the best" and hailed Hezbollah for doing its part to de-escalate a tension which arose from his Saudi-imposed resignation last November.

In an interview with the Wall Street Journal on Wednesday, Hariri said, "Our relationship with Iran—or with the [Persian] Gulf—has to be the best relationship, but one that serves the national interests of Lebanon."

He seemed to be distancing himself from the strong words he used against Iran and Hezbollah when he announced his resignation in Riyadh, accusing the two allies of meddling in Arab countries' affairs.

Iran and Hezbollah both rejected the accusations and Lebanese intelligence sources soon concluded that Hariri was under restrictions in Riyadh.

"The sudden resignation of Mr. Hariri and its announcement in another country are not only regrettable and astonishing, but also indicative of him playing in a court that the ill-wishers in the region have laid out," Iranian Foreign Ministry Spokesman Bahram Qasemi said in November. Analysts say Riyadh forced Hariri to quit and blame Hezbollah for its resignation in an attempt to cause a backlash against the popular Lebanese group which would then give rise to an internal political infighting, damaging Hezbollah.

The intended goal, however, backfired as Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, the Hezbollah secretary general, said back then that Saudi authorities had clearly and openly declared a war on Lebanon by holding Prime Minister Hariri hostage and forcing him to quit.

"Hariri is a prisoner in Saudi Arabia, and cannot return to his own country. Saudi Arabia is seeking to impose its will on the Lebanese government. It is trying to sow the seeds of discord among various political factions here and pit them against each other," the Hezbollah leader said.

  Conciliatory Approach

In a conciliatory approach toward the group, Hariri told the WSJ that "Hezbollah has been a member of this government. This is an inclusive government that has all the big political parties, and that brings political stability to the country," adding that "My main goal is to preserve this political stability for the unity of the country."

In remarks seeming to be defying pressure from Riyadh to confront Hezbollah, he also said that he was open to Hezbollah continuing to participate in the government following elections slated for May.

Hariri became prime minister in late 2016 under a deal that allowed a Hezbollah-backed candidate to become Lebanon's president, ending a more than two-year political deadlock.

After growing increasingly upset with Hariri's reluctance to confront Hezbollah, Saudi Arabia pushed him to announce a resignation during his visit to Riyadh in early November.

That resignation was promptly rejected by Lebanon's president. Following international mediation led by France, Hariri was allowed to leave Saudi Arabia later that month, returning to a hero's welcome in Beirut and immediately resuming his duties as prime minister.

The whole episodes are regarded as an embarrassing failure for Riyadh.

 

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