Aoun says political deal still stands

Hariri, who cited the meddling of Iran and its Lebanese proxy Hezbollah in the region in his resignation speech, has not returned to Lebanon or made contact with Lebanese officials since then.
by Georgi Azar

13 November 2017 | 19:41

Source: by Annahar

  • by Georgi Azar
  • Source: Annahar
  • Last update: 13 November 2017 | 19:41

A photo of President Michel Aoun (center) standing next to Prime Minister Saad Hariri (right) and Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri (left) (Annahar photo).

BEIRUT: Efforts to contain the repercussions of outgoing Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s shock resignation continued on Monday, with President Michel Aoun stressing that the political deal that led to his election and the formation of a national unity Cabinet under Hariri still stands.

In a statement released Monday, Aoun emphasized the importance of maintaining a unified front to preserve the country's stability, while reiterating the international community’s support for Lebanon, which seeks “to maintain the country’s stability, security, and sovereignty, free of foreign meddling.”

In a phone call between Aoun and his Turkish counterpart President Recep Erdogan, the latter threw his support behind “Aoun’s wise handling of the crisis”, while asserting that “Turkey stands by Lebanon.”

The European Union also voiced support for Hariri. EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said Monday that "it is important at this stage to ensure that all political parties in Lebanon maintain the focus on working together, adding "we expect no external interference" in Lebanon's affairs.

Aoun also said that the political settlement reached when the Cabinet was formed in December 2016 still stands, in the wake of Hariri keeping the door open on the possibility of withdrawing his resignation. Hariri said that it would be conditional on the Iranian-backed Hezbollah committing to remaining neutral on regional conflicts.

In his first TV interview since he resigned Nov. 4, Hariri said he was compelled to resign to save Lebanon from unspecified imminent dangers.

Hariri had given an extended interview on Future TV from the Gulf Kingdom Sunday evening, during which he said that his resignation was aimed to protect Lebanon from imminent danger, although he didn't specify who was threatening the country.

He also said he would return “in the coming days” to submit his resignation and seek a settlement with his rivals in the coalition government, the militant group Hezbollah. He said the unity government he formed a year ago was supposed to adhere to an agreement not to interfere in regional affairs but that Hezbollah has not kept its end of the deal.

Lebanon plunged into a political crisis when Hariri, from Saudi Arabia, declared his resignation on November 4 due to his perceived rise of Iranian influence in Lebanon and the region while accusing Hezbollah of taking the country hostage.

Hariri, who cited the meddling of Iran and its Lebanese proxy Hezbollah in the region in his resignation speech, has not returned to Lebanon or made contact with Lebanese officials since then.

Hariri’s return to Lebanon is highly anticipated, with Aoun seeking to hold talks with the PM in order to clarify the circumstances surrounding his resignation as well as addressing other concerns. Aoun had asserted last week that he would not proceed with holding Parliamentary consultations to name a new Prime Minister before Hariri’s return.

During the interview, Hariri also said that he is looking into security arrangements before returning to Lebanon, suggesting his life was in danger. He said his resignation was his own decision, dismissing reports he was forced into it.

Many Lebanese have suspected Hariri was placed under house arrest as part of a Saudi plan to unravel a coalition government he had formed last year with Hezbollah.

At one point during the interview, Hariri's eyes were wide open, moving to the back of the room. The camera caught a man in the back corner, behind the interviewer, who was holding what appeared to be a rolled paper. The man, whose face was outside the frame, soon disappeared but not before the camera moved back to Hariri, who was staring at him with an angry and disgusted look. On Twitter, some Lebanese shared clips of the video and wondered if the man in the back had some kind of message for Hariri, fueling reports that the prime minister was being held against his will.

This prompted Waleed Bukhari, the Charge D’affaires of the Saudi Arabian Embassy in Beirut, to tweet a sarcastic photo on Monday, ridiculing these claims. With AP. 

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