Lebanese cardinal arrives in Saudi Arabia to meet Hariri

Lebanese cardinal arrives in Saudi Arabia to meet Hariri

Macron said the invitation was extended to the premier after discussion between the two and Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

"I wait for the return of President (of the council of ministers) Hariri to decide the next move regarding the government", Aoun said during a meeting with journalists.

Cardinal Bechara el-Rai's visit, the first ever by a Maronite patriarch to the kingdom according to the cardinal, has taken on special significance since Hariri announced his resignation in a surprise statement broadcast from Riyadh on November 4.

Saudi officials have criticized Lebanon's current political structure, arguing that Iran has hijacked the Arab country through its proxy, Hezbollah.

"The accusation that the kingdom would hold a prime minister or a former prime minister is not true, especially a political ally like" Hariri, al-Jubeir said during a press conference with his French counterpart Jean-Yves Le Drian who is visiting Saudi Arabia.

Al-Jubeir railed against Hezbollah, calling it a "first-class terrorist organization" that should lay down its arms and respect Lebanon's sovereignty.

Hariri is expected in France in the coming days, according to an official in President Emmanuel Macron's office.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani meanwhile ratcheted up the rhetoric against Saudi Arabia, his country's main regional rival, saying the kingdom pressured Hariri to resign in a "rare" intervention in another nation's affairs.

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"We need to have leaders who are free to express themselves", said Macron.

It was the first time Aoun describes Hariri as a detainee.

There would be consultations before he returns to Beirut to build global support for him to negotiate a new political deal in Lebanon, French officials said.

On Thursday, Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir said Saudi Arabia was consulting with its allies about what leverage to use against Hezbollah.

Riyadh is expected to discuss Iran's rising influence in the region at the meeting, as well as the Lebanese crisis.

Lebanese Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil has toured European capitals seeking diplomatic help to end the crisis.

Sources close to the prime minister said that he was forced to quit by Saudi officials in Riyadh.

France, Lebanon's onetime colonial ruler, has been trying to mediate in the crisis between Lebanon and Saudi Arabia.

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