By Wasim Saif al-Din; Writing by Ali Abo Rezeg
Lebanese President Michel Aoun on Friday asked a Saudi diplomat to allow recently resigned Lebanese Premier Saad Hariri to return home from Saudi Arabia, according to a statement released by Aoun’s office.
Aoun reportedly told Walid al-Bukhari, charge d'affaires at the Saudi embassy in Beirut, that the circumstances of Hariri's resignation last week -- announced from Saudi Arabia -- had been “unacceptable”.
“We demand his return,” Aoun reportedly told al-Bukhari, referring to Hariri’s lengthy stay in Saudi Arabia, from which he apparently has yet to return.
Speaking on the sidelines of a meeting of the International Support Group for Lebanon, Aoun went on to clarify Lebanon's position regarding Hariri's abrupt resignation last week and continued absence.
According to Aoun, Lebanon is awaiting Hariri’s return in hopes of “ascertaining the reasons behind the sudden [resignation] announcement”.
The Lebanese president also voiced his concern about "what has been reported regarding the circumstances surrounding Hariri’s current status".
Aoun reassured his interlocutors, however, stressing "the solidarity of Lebanese leaders at this sensitive phase of Lebanon’s history and their keenness to promote [Lebanese] national unity”.
Al-Bukhari, for his part, did not make any statements before leaving Beirut’s Baabda presidential palace, which served as the venue for Friday’s meeting.
The International Support Group for Lebanon includes the UN, the EU and the Cairo-based Arab League, along with the U.S., U.K., Chinese, French, German, Italian and Russian governments.
On Thursday, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates all abruptly ordered their respective citizens to leave Lebanon.
The move came six days after Hariri abruptly announced his resignation in a televised address delivered from Riyadh.
In his resignation address, Hariri had criticized Iran and its Lebanese ally, Hezbollah, accusing them of sowing “sedition” in the region and meddling in Arab affairs.
Aoun, however, has yet to formally accept the resignation.
Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah, for his part, has said there was “no reason” for Hariri to step down and has accused Saudi Arabia of forcing him to resign.
On Monday, Saudi Minister of State for Gulf Affairs Thamer al-Sabhan dismissed claims that Riyadh had forced Hariri to step down, saying these were "lies" being disseminated by Hezbollah.
Hariri was appointed Lebanese prime minister late last year. Before Saturday’s resignation, he had led a 30-member government that included Hezbollah representatives.
Saudi Arabia, Hariri’s longtime backer, is Iran’s arch-foe in the region. While Riyadh supports Syria’s armed opposition, Iran and Hezbollah both support Syria's Bashar al-Assad regime.