Lebanon’s Leader, Still in Saudi Arabia, Claims He’s Free to Go


Adding to their suspicions, Mr. Hariri’s resignation came on the same day that the assertive Saudi crown prince, Mohammad bin Salman, oversaw the arrests of hundreds of Saudis in what he says is a corruption crackdown and critics say amounts to a purge.

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People lining the route of the 21-kilometer race in Beirut, Lebanon, on Sunday cheered the runners and waved posters demanding the return from Saudi Arabia of the nation’s prime minister, Saad Hariri.

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Wael Hamzeh/European Pressphoto Agency

The resignation announcement was widely seen as a Saudi effort to bring down the coalition government in which Mr. Hariri served along with representatives of the Hezbollah, a Shiite militia and political party — and an ally of Iran.

At least five Lebanese televisions stations refused to carry Sunday’s interview, saying it was still unclear whether Mr. Hariri was able to speak freely.

Lebanon’s president, Michel Aoun, had said earlier that anything Mr. Hariri says from Saudi Arabia “does not reflect the truth, and is but the result of the mysterious and dubious situation he is undergoing in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, and hence cannot be taken seriously.”

“I’m free, I could leave tomorrow,” Mr. Hariri told Ms. Yacoubian. He added, however, that information had come to light while he was in Riyadh that persuaded him that he needed to review his security arrangements before returning. Lebanese authorities have said they have no information about a plot against him.

He had said in his resignation speech on Nov. 4 that there were threats against his life, implying that they came from Hezbollah, which denies allegations that it was involved in the 2005 assassination of his father, Rafik Hariri, a former prime minister. He cited the interference in Lebanon by Iran and the dominance of Hezbollah as other reasons for his decision to step down..

But in the interview, Mr. Hariri seemed to leave open the question of whether his resignation was final. He said that upon returning to Lebanon, he would resign in person in the proper constitutional manner, but also that he would hold conversations with Mr. Aoun and others and that he could possibly stay in office if Lebanon could follow a policy of neutrality in the region.

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Lebanon’s prime minister, Saad Hariri, may be absent, but posters with his photograph and the words “We are all with you” are on display in Beirut.

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Mohamed Azakir/Reuters

Mr. Hariri said that his wife and children were at their family home in Saudi Arabia — he has both Saudi and Lebanese citizenship — and that he had good relations with King Salman and the crown prince.

His language seemed more conciliatory toward Hezbollah than in his resignation speech, in which he vowed to “cut the hands” of Iran’s allies; instead, he offered the somewhat milder complaint that Hezbollah had not reciprocated when he made compromises within the coalition government.

Those looking in Sunday’s interview for clues to his Saudi hosts’ intentions noted that Mr. Hariri singled out as a problem Hezbollah’s involvement in Yemen, where a Saudi-led coalition has been battling rebels aligned with Iran.

The interview came hours after a record number of people had taken part in the annual Beirut Marathon, which for many became a kind of statement of defiance against international interference in Lebanon by any side.

People passed out baseball caps with slogans like “bring back our PM,” or prime minister. The marathon is always billed as a statement of unity and resilience and given the regional tensions, Sunday’s was even more so.

Around 47,000 people showed up to run in the Beirut marathon and a number of other shorter races, more than ever before, organizers said.

“We are all Saad,” and “Running for you” were among the slogans displayed on posters and billboards.

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