Lebanon's Hariri says he is a ‘free man,’ returning home ‘very soon’

Lebanon's Hariri says he is a ‘free man,’ returning home ‘very soon’
In the first interview since his surprise resignation from an undisclosed location in Saudi Arabia last week, Lebanon’s Prime Minister Saad Hariri has denied being held in the kingdom against his will, saying he may reverse his decision to leave his post.

I am a free man in Saudi Arabia, and I can leave whenever I want,” he said in an interview broadcast on the Lebanese channel Future TV. “I will return to Lebanon very soon.

Hariri, who was prime minister between 2009 and 2011 and reappointed again last year, explained that he chose to postpone his homecoming as he was “not confident about his life and the life of his family,” and said he is currently “rebuilding the security apparatus.

Hariri, who holds dual Saudi and Lebanese citizenship, also insisted that his host, King Salman, treats him “like a son,” rejecting allegations that Saudi Arabia was stoking the regional crisis. He reiterated almost word-for-word sentences from his November 3 resignation statement, blaming Hezbollah and Iran for creating instability in this country. He added that he wrote that statement “by his own hand.

The politician said his intention was “to cause a positive shock,” warding off Tehran's meddling, and said he could yet rescind his resignation if Hezbollah “promised to stay neutral in regional conflicts.

It's unclear if Hariri’s words will be taken at face value back home in Lebanon, where media observers noted his haggard appearance, and an unfamiliar public tone that veered between the flat and the overwhelmed, such as the moment when he appeared to break down in tears.

Just before the interview aired, Lebanese President Michel Aoun said he would not accept Hariri’s resignation until he returned and spoke to him personally.

“The obscurity surrounding the condition of Prime Minister Saad Hariri since his resignation a week ago means that all positions and actions declared by him or attributed to him do not reflect the truth,” Aoun said in a statement.

Earlier, Hezbollah also said that Hariri, who was previously regarded as a Saudi ally, but not one seeking an open conflict with the powerful Shia movement, was held “hostage” in the Gulf kingdom, where several of his close family members still remain.

“We condemn the blunt, bare-faced Saudi intervention in our domestic affairs,” said Hezbollah Hassan Nasrallah Friday, calling for the PM to come back. “Any offence to the Lebanese Prime Minister is an offence to all Lebanese, even when he is our adversary.”

Hezbollah believes that Hariri’s detention represents a power play by Riyadh in its proxy conflict with Tehran that is currently being played out in several neighboring states.

Local media reported that the Saudis planned to replace Saad Hariri with his older brother Bahaa, in a bid to rein in the perceived Shia influence, but these suggestions have so far been rejected by the current PM’s Future movement. “We are not a herd of sheep or a piece of property to hand over from one person to the other,” said Interior Minister Nohad Machnouk earlier this week.