November 21, 2017 / 4:57 PM / 24 days ago

Lebanon's Hariri holds talks with Egypt President Sisi in Cairo

CAIRO (Reuters) - Lebanon’s Saad al-Hariri, who resigned as prime minister on Nov. 4, met Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi for talks in a brief Cairo stopover before a planned return to Lebanon, Egypt state media said on Tuesday.

Hariri had been in Paris since Saturday when he met French President Emmanuel Macron. He has said he will return to Lebanon by Wednesday for the country’s Independence Day celebrations, where he said he will clarify his position.

His surprise resignation announced from Riyadh triggered a political crisis in Lebanon’s power-sharing government and drew his country deeper into a regional power struggle between Sunni kingdom Saudi Arabia and Shi‘ite Islamist Iran.

A Saudi ally, Hariri said he quit over interference in Lebanon by Iran and its Lebanese ally Hezbollah, a Shi‘ite group, which is part the government. But President Michel Aoun and others say Hariri may have been coerced into resigning.

Sisi, a former military commander who presents himself as a bulwark against Islamist militancy, has stressed his backing for Saudi Arabia and Gulf Arab allies who have helped with aid since he ousted a government led by the Muslim Brotherhood in 2013.

But he has also said Egypt is not considering measures against Hezbollah despite Saudi demands for sanctions against the Lebanese group. He has received calls from Macron and from U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson over the crisis.

Hariri arrived at Cairo International Airport, where he was received by Egypt’s health minister, the Lebanese ambassador to Cairo and Egypt’s ambassador to Beirut, his press office said.

He went immediately to the presidential palace, it said. A message on Hariri’s Twitter account said the meeting would be followed by a dinner in his honor.

“Saad Hariri arrived in Cairo on Tuesday evening from Paris to meet President Sisi, and he is scheduled to return to Lebanon on Wednesday,” MENA state news agency said.

Egypt’s presidency said Aoun, a Hezbollah ally, also spoke with Sisi to discuss developments. Sisi and Aoun “underscored the importance of preserving Lebanon’s stability as well as upholding Lebanon’s national interest.”

Additional reporting by Abdel Nasser Aboul Fadl in Cairo and Lisa Barrington in Beirut; writing by Patrick Markey, Editing by William Maclean

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