France Says Hariri Accepts invitation, Will Come Within Days

A poster of resigned prime minister Saad Hariri in Lebanon
A poster of resigned Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri with Arabic that read, "We are all with you," hangs on a street in Beirut, Lebanon, Monday, Nov. 13, 2017. Cardinal Bechara el-Rai, who heads the Maronite sect, Lebanon's biggest Christian community and the Middle East's largest Catholic church, is to head to Saudi Arabia and is expected to meet with Hariri, in a visit he had planned before Hariri announced his resignation. Photo: Hassan Ammar, AP

PARIS (AP) – The French president’s office said Thursday that Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri has accepted an invitation to come to France after his surprise resignation from Saudi Arabia nearly two weeks ago that stunned Lebanon and rattled the region.

An official in President Emmanuel Macron‘s office said Hariri is expected in France in the coming days. The official was not authorized to be publicly named.

Mr. Hariri announced his resignation from Saudi Arabia on November 4, citing meddling in the region’s affairs by Iran and its Lebanese ally, Hezbollah. He has not returned to Lebanon since, and the Lebanese president has refused to accept his resignation before he returns.

In his strongest statements yet about the crisis, President Michel Aoun accused Saudi Arabia of “detaining” Mr. Hariri, saying there was no reason for the prime minister not to return to Lebanon.

France, Lebanon’s onetime colonial ruler, has been trying to mediate in the crisis. On Wednesday, Mr. Macron invited Mr. Hariri and his family to come to France, apparently as a way to put an end to allegations that the prime minister is being held against his will.

The resignation of the Saudi-backed Hariri stunned Lebanon, throwing its government into turmoil. It was a reflection of the deepening feud between Saudi Arabia and Iran for influence in the region.

On Wednesday, the front page of the daily Lebanese Al-Akhbar boasted: “Saudi loses,” hailing the French for their proposal to end the deadlock.

Mr. Hariri resigned from Saudi Arabia in a televised speech that blasted Iran’s role in the region. The decision was seen as engineered by Saudi Arabia and raised concerns that it would drag Lebanon, with its delicate sectarian-based political system, into the battle for regional supremacy.

The announcement that Mr. Hariri will head to France came after French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian met in Saudi Arabia with Mr. Hariri, the Saudi crown prince and the Saudi king.