PARIS — World leaders will meet in Paris on Friday with Prime Minister Saad Hariri of Lebanon, which is seeking to escape the regional power struggle between Iran and Saudi Arabia.
French President Emmanuel Macron, who helped Hariri resolve the crisis sparked by his shock resignation announced from Riyadh last month and rescinded this week, will kick off the talks.
Representatives of all five permanent members of the UN Security Council, including US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, will attend along with envoys from Germany, Italy and regional powerhouse Egypt.
"It’s a sort of consecration, a re-legitimisation for Mr Hariri," said Hasni Abidi of the CERMAM research centre specialising in Arab affairs.
"The international community is validating a return to normal for Hariri," he said from CERMAM’s Geneva headquarters.
The French foreign ministry said the meeting would aim to "support the political process (in Lebanon) at a crucial moment," adding: "It will send a message both to the various parties in Lebanon and to countries in the region."
Saudi Arabia is suspected of pressuring Hariri, a longtime ally, to resign as its simmering regional rivalry with Iran began to escalate this autumn.
In his televised announcement from Saudi Arabia on November 4, Hariri lambasted Tehran and its Lebanese ally, the powerful armed movement Hezbollah, for destabilising his country.
More broadly, Arab states denounce Tehran’s growing influence in the region through armed groups such as Hezbollah, from Lebanon to Yemen as well as Syria and Iraq.
Hariri’s shock resignation announcement sent tremors through Lebanon, long a proxy battleground of regional powers.
The Lebanese leader remained in Riyadh for two weeks, sparking speculation that he was being held hostage by the Saudis.
Macron intervened to try to defuse the crisis, inviting Hariri to Paris for talks, after which the Lebanese leader returned to Beirut to a hero’s welcome.
Power play backfires
Riyadh’s power play paradoxically led divided Lebanese factions to come together in order to avoid a political breakdown.
Following consultations with the various political groups in Lebanon, Hariri announced on Tuesday he was withdrawing his resignation.
The Lebanese cabinet issued a joint statement to reaffirm their commitment to staying out of regional conflicts and apparently put an end to the month-long Hariri saga.
After Friday’s talks Hariri will give a joint press briefing with French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian and Amina Mohammed, the UN deputy secretary general.
The International Support Group for Lebanon, which will meet in Paris on Friday, was launched in September 2013 partly in response to the massive influx of refugees from the conflict in neighbouring Syria. — AFP