EU says Hariri must return to Lebanon, warns against Saudi interference

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The European Union on Monday urged Saad al-Hariri to return to Lebanon, calling on all political forces inside the country to focus on the domestic agenda and warning Saudi Arabia against meddling.

Cars pass next to a poster depicting Saad al-Hariri, who has resigned as Lebanon's prime minister, in Beirut, Lebanon,, Lebanon, November 13, 2017. REUTERS/Mohamed Azakir

Hariri’s resignation, announced from Riyadh, and its aftermath have put Lebanon at the forefront of regional rivalry between Shi’ite-led Iran and Sunni Saudi Arabia Riyadh in recent days.

“We appeal first of all to the political forces to focus on Lebanon and what they can deliver to their citizens, Prime Minister Hariri to return to his country and the unity government ... to focus on domestic achievements,” the bloc’s top diplomat, Federica Mogherini, told reporters.

“We expect no external interference in this national agenda. We believe it is essential to avoid importing into Lebanon regional conflicts,” she said after hosting a meeting of all 28 EU foreign ministers in Brussels.

She praised the achievements of the Lebanese government under Hariri, who resigned saying he feared assassination.

He has criticized the Iran-backed Hezbollah, which is part of his coalition government, for sowing strife in the Arab world and said he could take his resignation back if the group agreed to stay out of regional conflicts.

France’s foreign minister, speaking on the sidelines of the ministerial gathering in Brussels, also called on other countries not to interfere in Lebanon.

“We are preoccupied by the situation in Lebanon... we are worried about its stability, we are worried about its integrity, we are worried about non-interference,” Jean-Yves Le Drian said.

“To reach a political solution in Lebanon, all political figures must have complete freedom of movement,” he told reporters when asked about Hariri.

Germany’s Sigmar Gabriel also said Hariri should return as his departure has shaken Lebanon.

Their Luxembourgish counterpart Jean Asselborn warned Riyadh that a meltdown in Lebanon would further destabilize the tumultuous Middle East, adding that “a hostage crisis, if that is what is happening with the Lebanese Prime Minister in Saudi Arabia, is not very good news for the region.”

Reporting by Gabriela Baczynska and Robin Emmott; Editing by Richard Balmforth