U.S.'s Tillerson concerned over Saudi purge, monitoring Hariri situation

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s recent political purge raises concerns and remains unclear but does not appear to amount to mass arrests, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told reporters on Friday.

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson testifies about authorizations for the use of military force before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S. October 30, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

Separately, Tillerson said there was no indication that Lebanon’s former prime minister, Saad al-Hariri, was being held in Saudi Arabia against his will but that the United States was monitoring the situation, according to a press pool report of his remarks.

Tillerson, who is traveling with President Donald Trump on an Asia trip, made the comments following talks with his Saudi counterpart this week.

Prince Mohammed, Saudi Arabia’s future king, has tightened his grip on power through an anti-corruption purge by arresting royals, ministers and investors including billionaire Alwaleed bin Talal who is one of the kingdom’s most prominent businessmen. He was among 11 princes, four ministers and tens of former ministers who were detained.

Asked about the Saudi purge, Tillerson said he had spoken with Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir about the situation on Wednesday and that the recent crackdown did not yet amount to formal arrests.

“Based on that conversation, it’s well intended. How disruptive it’s going to be remains to be seen,” Tillerson said, adding that the situation was “still a bit unclear.”

“It’s my understanding that they’re characterizing these as not really arrests at this point but they’re presenting people with evidence of what they think the wrongdoing is to see if there’s a willingness to want to make things right.”

“It raises a few concerns until we see more clearly how these particular individuals are dealt with,” Tillerson added.

His view contrasted with that of Trump, who has praised the Saudi purge and expressed confidence in the king and crown prince.

Tillerson also said that Jubeir had assured him that Hariri’s decision to resign was taken “on his own.”

The United States was watching the situation “very carefully,” supporting “the legitimate government of Lebanon” and “asking other outside parties to stay out of it,” he added.

“If he’s going to step down, as I understand it, he needs to go back to Lebanon to make that official. I’m hopeful that if that is still his intent to leave that he’ll do that so that the government of Lebanon can function properly,” Tillerson said.

(This version of the story was refiled to fix name of Saudi royal in second reference in 4th paragraph)

Reporting by Lesley Wroughton; Writing by Susan Heavey; Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe