France says President Emmanuel Macron has “invited” Saad Hariri, along with his family, to Paris, days after the Lebanese premier announced his surprise resignation in Saudi Arabia, where he is said to be kept in detention.
“After discussing it with [Saudi] Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman and Prime Minister of Lebanon Saad Hariri, the president of the republic invited Saad Hariri and his family to come to France,” the French presidential palace, the Elysee, announced in a statement on Wednesday.
French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said Thursday morning that Hariri has accepted the invitation.
Harir sent shockwaves through Lebanon on November 4, when he appeared live on TV during a visit to Saudi Arabia and read out his resignation statement.
Lebanon says Hariri has been forced by the Saudi regime to resign and is currently being held there, with President Michel Aoun calling the detention an act of aggression against his nation.
The prime minister has, however, said on Twitter that he would return home “within days,” but his family would stay in Saudi Arabia, prompting speculation that Riyadh seeks to hold his family members in the kingdom as de facto hostages.
Senior Lebanese officials and other world leaders have been trying to figure out what is going on behind the scenes in the Hariri case, with many of them pressuring the Saudi regime to secure the safe return of Hariri to his homeland.
A source close to Hariri said he is expected to leave Saudi Arabia for France within 48 hours before flying home to Beirut to officially submit his resignation.
President Aoun reacted to Macron’s invitation on Twitter, expressing hope that Hariri’s acceptance would help end the political crisis in Lebanon.
“I await the return of PM Hariri to Beirut so we can decide on the situation of the government - if he wants to resign or rescind his resignation,” Aoun said, according to presidential sources.
Macron’s invitation came less than a week after the French leader rushed to Riyadh on an unscheduled visit and held a brief meeting with Mohammed bin Salman apparently to discuss the Hariri situation.
The French invitation gave rise to speculation that Hariri is being sent to Europe by the Saudi regime “into exile.” Other observers also speculated that Macron was trying to provide the Lebanese PM with a way out of Saudi Arabia, especially when he included Hariri’s family in the invitation.
Later, Macron told reporters after a climate conference in the German city of Bonn that he was not inviting Hariri into political “exile,” but that the invitation was merely made in “friendship” for Hariri to spend “a few days with his family” in France.
Political observers, however, say such a clarification by Macron merely adds to the existing oddity of the Hariri case.
While reading his resignation statement, which is believed to have been written for him, Hariri said the premiership was no longer tenable for him due to what he called intervention by the Lebanese resistant movement, Hezbollah, and Iran.
Both Iran and Hezbollah have categorically denied the allegations, calling it a scenario by Zionists, Saudis and the US to create new tensions in Lebanon and elsewhere in the Middle East.
Hariri also said that he sensed a plot being hatched against his life. Lebanese intelligence and security authorities have denied there was any plot to assassinate Hariri.
Analysts say Hariri was targeted by Saudi Arabia as he refused to adopt a confrontational approach against Hezbollah, a powerful political party which is part of the Hariri-led coalition government.
According to informed sources, Saudi officials have given Saad Hariri two options: One: return to Beirut, but take a constant aggressive stance against Hezbollah and any government Hezbollah partakes in. Two: go to exile to anywhere in Europe, keep silent and leave politics for good.
Reports also say the Saudis are trying to put Bahaa Hariri as the leader of the Future Movement in Lebanon and the new “man of Saudi Arabia” in the country.
On Wednesday, Hariri’s older brother, Bahaa, made his first public statement from Monaco since the onset of the crisis. He expressed gratitude to Saudi Arabia for what he called “decades of support” for Lebanon and accused Iran and Hezbollah of trying to “take control” of the country.
Lebanon’s President Aoun, a political ally of Hezbollah, has said he will not accept Hariri’s resignation before meeting him in person in Lebanon.
The Hariri family, dual Lebanese and Saudi citizens, have extensive business interests in Saudi Arabia. Saad Hariri, the son of former Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri, who was killed in a Beirut bombing in 2005, is highly dependent on Saudi support for his political clout and patronage network.
Reports say Saad and Bahaa have been at odds with each other, since Saad was chosen to take control over the billionaire family’s political and business affairs instead of the older brother.