- The Washington Times - Friday, December 8, 2017

World leaders rallied Friday behind Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri, seeking to re-legitimize him on the international stage days after he rescinded what had been a shock resignation from office last month.

The five permanent U.N. Security Council nations — Britain, China, France, Russia and the U.S. — voiced support for Mr. Hariri at a conference in Paris and urged both Saudi Arabia and Iran to stop meddling in Lebanon’s politics.

U.S. Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson and others, including French President Emmanuel Macron, also called on Hezbollah, the Iran-backed militant organization that has a political foothold in Lebanon, to cease its regional activities.

Lebanon has a significant population of Shia Muslims and has long been a friction point between the Middle East’s Sunni Muslim powers — such as Saudi Arabia — and the region’s Shia powerhouse of Iran.

While the tiny Mediterranean nation that also borders Israel has clung to stability in recent years amid a refugee crisis and civil war raging next door in Syria, a shadow of uncertainty was cast over Lebanon in early November when Mr. Hariri, long a balancing force in the nation’s chaotic politics, suddenly resigned.

He made the announcement while visiting Saudi Arabia, a development that prompted speculation that Riyadh had somehow forced the resignation in a move to ratchet up tensions with Iran and Hezbollah in Lebanon. It also sparked rumors that the Saudis were holding Mr. Hariri hostage.

At the time, Mr. Hariri, who’s not known for inflammatory statements about regional frictions, lambasted Saudi Arabia’s archrival Iran and said he was resigning because he feared assassination.

After international pressure and negotiation between Lebanese political factions, Mr. Hariri rescinded his resignation this week. According to Reuters, his precarious coalition government in Beirut, which includes representatives from Hezbollah, also reaffirmed a state policy of staying out of conflicts in Arab states.

Lebanon is a former French colony, and French President Macron was seen to play a central role in Mr. Hariri’s revival this week, having invited the Lebanese prime minister to Paris for talks.

The International Lebanon Support Group (GIS), a body founded in 2013 that includes the five members of the U.N. Security Council, met in Paris Friday to try and reinforce Mr. Hariri’s influence to prevent an escalation in Lebanon.

Mr. Tillerson, who was on hand for the meeting, said Mr. Hariri had “affirmed he has rescinded” his earlier resignation. The secretary said the U.S. and others want to work with Lebanon to move forward on security and prepare for elections next year, but he also stressed that it’s critical to ensure Hezbollah’s disassociation from regional conflicts, including the civil war raging on the other side of the Middle East in Yemen.

Saudi Arabia, which has been engaged in a violent military campaign against other Iran-backed forces in Yemen since 2015, is seen to be increasingly worried about the prospect of a major Hezbollah role there.


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