It is also the first trip to Riyadh by a senior Lebanese official since the start of a crisis sparked by Saad al-Hariri's resignation as Lebanese prime minister on November 4 from the Saudi capital. And while he was there, he suddenly announced he was quitting his job.
Authorities have detained dozens of top Saudis including billionaire Prince Alwaleed bin Talal in a move widely seen as an attempt by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to neuter any opposition to his lightning ascent to power. "Prime Minister Hariri was refraining from beating around the bush any longer about Iran's malign influence in Lebanon". NPR's Ruth Sherlock watched that interview from Lebanon's capital, Beirut. He has friends and supporters and interests and so forth, first and foremost among them the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, whom Saad Hariri said he look up as a father figures. There were moments when he seemed on the verge of tears.
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While commending the Lebanese for "social solidarity" with refugees, almost all of whom are Syrian, the prelates said the refugees' presence - now more than half of Lebanon's existing population of about 4 million - "has become a burden and a threat to its structure, economy and population balance and to its political and security stability".
Days later, Hariri's private plane returned to Lebanon, but he didn't. And he added a plot twist in the drama that has gripped the country the past week. Reuters reported that the Lebanese prime minister's phone had been confiscated. He believes Hariri was emboldened to speak out against Hezbollah by the fact that the United States and Saudi Arabia have strengthened their position against Iran's involvement in conflicts in the region.
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Hezbollah is fighting in the wars in Iraq, Syria and Yemen.
"The Lebanese people have been waiting for him (Hariri) to return because the situation has come to a stop and the Lebanese people have been unsettled", el-Rai said. He insisted Lebanon would remain neutral in these wars. Hariri's insistence on a neutral Lebanon is in effect a call to weaken Iran's grip on the country.
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Hariri's shock resignation after less than a year as premier mystified Lebanon and led to speculation by some media outlets and politicians that he was forced into it by the Gulf kingdom. Our relationship (with Saudi Arabia) is fine and I think our agenda against Daesh (IS) is ongoing. Maha Yahya, the director of the Carnegie Middle East Center, says Hariri's new suggestion, that he may remain prime minister, is likely the result of heavy global pressure on the Saudi government.