PARIS (Reuters) – French President Emmanuel Macron has claimed credit for solving a political crisis in Lebanon last year and stated publicly that Saudi Arabia had held Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri for several weeks.
Lebanon was plunged into crisis in November when Hariri resigned as prime minister while in Saudi Arabia, saying he feared assassination and criticising the Saudis’ regional rival Iran and its Lebanese ally Hezbollah.
Lebanese officials accused the Saudis at the time of holding Hariri hostage. After international intervention, including by Macron, Hariri was able to leave the kingdom and eventually rescinded his resignation.
“If France wasn’t listened to then there probably would be a war in Lebanon at this moment as we speak. It’s French diplomacy, it’s our action,” Macron said in an interview with broadcaster BFM TV, visibly irritated after being asked if his foreign policy over the last year had achieved anything.
Macron said an unscheduled stopover in Riyadh to convince Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, followed by an invitation to Hariri to come to France, had been the catalyst to ending the crisis.
“I remind you that a prime minister was held in Saudi Arabia for several weeks,” he said, a comment that could irk Riyadh which, like Hariri, denied he was ever held against his will.
Macron dined with Hariri and Prince Mohammed in Paris in April after a conference to rally international support for an investment programme to boost the Lebanese economy.
Hariri, who visited Riyadh in February for the first time since the November crisis, is working to form a new coalition after a May 6 parliamentary election that strengthened his rival Hezbollah and its political allies.
(Reporting by John Irish; Editing by Robin Pomeroy)