The head of Lebanon's Maronite Catholic community arrived in Saudi Arabia on Monday in the first public visit by a Lebanese official since Prime Minister Saad Hariri announced his sudden resignation nine days ago.
In his resignation speech, Hariri cited fear of an assassination plot backed by Iran, and sternly criticized the Islamic Republic and its Lebanese terror proxy Hezbollah for fueling conflict throughout the Middle East.
Saudi Arabia Crown Prince Mohammad Salman will open the King Salman Centre for International Peace next year but the visit is likely to cause some controversy.
Days later, Hariri's private plane returned to Lebanon, but he didn't.
Hariri's office said he met several diplomats in Riyadh on Monday including the British and German ambassadors.
The palace intrigue intensified. He has friends and supporters and interests and so forth, first and foremost among them the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, whom Saad Hariri said he look up as a father figures. He was pale, with dark bags under his eyes. At some moments, he even seems on the verge of tears.
Meanwhile the French presidency welcomed Hariri's comment that he would soon be returning to Lebanon.
SHERLOCK: It's unlikely that Hezbollah will meet Hariri's demands to pull out of the region's wars.
"The Lebanese people have been waiting for him (Hariri) to return because the situation has come to a stop and the Lebanese people have been unsettled", el-Rai said.
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The leaders are also expected to unite in condemning North Korea's nuclear and ballistic missile tests. Both sides now have a solid political foundation on which to make commitments to improving ties.
If the interview was meant to end the rumors that Hariri is being coerced by Saudi Arabia, it didn't exactly work. "We want our Prime Minister to be back, freely, in his country, where he can declare whatever he wants".
Maha Yahya, the director of the Middle East Center of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, says she believes Hariri's TV appearance may have been a way for him and the Saudis to save face in the international backlash. Our relationship (with Saudi Arabia) is fine and I think our agenda against Daesh (IS) is ongoing. "I think this kind of strong-arm tactic [by Saudi Arabia] obviously caused a lot of alarm, and that flies in the face of worldwide norms". So I suspect that this was kind of a way to soften the entire situation.
His resignation came as tensions rise between Riyadh and Tehran, which back opposing sides in power struggles from Lebanon and Syria to Yemen.
Mohammed Khalid Alyahya, a Saudi citizen and nonresident fellow at the Atlantic Council, said speculation about anything else is "ridiculous".
Saudi Arabia's U.N. Ambassador Abdallah al-Mouallimi, asked whether Hariri is being detained, told a news conference at U.N. headquarters in New York: "That's preposterous".
The prince, however, was also credited with allowing women in Saudi Arabia to drive.
In his first TV interview since he resigned November 4, Hariri said he was compelled to resign to save Lebanon from unspecified imminent dangers. But even as he called for Lebanon's independence from Iran, questions over Hariri's own freedom remain. As well as being a well-armed militia, Hezbollah is a dominant force in Lebanon's ministerial Cabinet. Lebanon's prime minister gave a TV interview and did not sound like he's quitting after all.
The Sunni Muslim royal family has long vied with Iran's Shiite regime for influence in the region.
SHERLOCK: This, he says, will depend on Hezbollah meeting certain demands. These conflicts have cost the group many lives, and it is so strong in Lebanon, there is little reason for it to capitulate.