Former Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri, who resigned suddenly while in Saudi Arabia last week, gave an interview on Lebanese television in which he sought to dispel rumors he was forced to resign by the Saudis and promised he would return to Lebanon soon.
“My main task is to preserve Lebanon. What is happening is a regional threat to Lebanon. I spoke now because there is pressure surrounding the resignation,” said Hariri in an interview with a television station he owns.
“I resigned and I will go to Lebanon and follow the constitutional means. I take responsibility and I will return to Lebanon,” he said, addressing criticisms that he failed to comply with the proper procedure for resigning his office. Some of those critics have stated he should still be considered the sitting prime minister because his resignation was invalid.
More specifically, Hariri said he would “return to Beirut within a few days after making the necessary security arrangements.” At the time of his resignation, he said he feared he would be assassinated by Iran and its Lebanese proxy Hezbollah.
Hariri insisted his relationship with the Saudi monarchy is excellent, hoping to dismiss rumors King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed forced him out of office because they were displeased by his inability to reduce Iranian influence in Lebanon.
“King Salman considers me his son. The Crown Prince has all the respect for me. The stability of Lebanon is an essential asset for King Salman and the Crown Prince,” he said. “My relationship with the Saudi Crown Prince is excellent, solid and distinctive, and I consider him a brother and he considers me as a brother.”
CNN thinks Hariri’s interview “backfired spectacularly” because he looked so uncomfortable, “pale and somber,” all but unrecognizable to his longtime supporters. Analysts familiar with Hariri described him as tense, emotional, and exhausted in the interview. He guzzled water throughout the interview, needed an early commercial break to regain his composure after struggling to hold back tears, and ended up telling his interviewer that she was making him “very tired.”
It did not help that the interviewer, popular TV host Paula Yacoubian, began the exchange by declaring she was “unable to convince anybody that you aren’t a prisoner in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, that you’re not a hostage, that you’re not under house arrest even though we are in your own house.” She also worried aloud that she would be accused of taking part in a theatrical deception.
Even more unhelpful — right after Hariri said he planned to return to Beirut soon, an unidentified man handed him a slip of paper from off-camera and he seemed visibly disturbed by whatever was written on the note.
NPR notes that Hariri teased the possibility of rescinding his resignation if Hezbollah pulls its forces out of conflicts in Iraq, Syria, and Yemen so that Lebanon could regain its neutrality. Not only is that possibility unlikely, but skeptics see it as exactly the sort of political theater the Saudis would want Hariri to put on.
“At least five Lebanese television channels reportedly refused to broadcast the interview, saying it still wasn’t clear whether their prime minister could speak freely,” NPR reports.