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After Weeks Of Will-He-Or-Won't-He, Lebanon's Prime Minister Rescinds Resignation

19 hours ago
Originally published on December 5, 2017 1:41 pm

Just one month after announcing his resignation in Saudi Arabia, jolting the region and leaving onlookers bewildered, Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri has formally withdrawn that resignation. He declared his official decision after a Cabinet meeting Tuesday near Beirut, at which Lebanon's president and high-ranking ministers endorsed his call for the country to stay out of the affairs of other Arab countries.

"All [the government's] political components decide to dissociate themselves from all conflicts, disputes, wars or the internal affairs of brother Arab countries, in order to preserve Lebanon's economic and political relations," Hariri said in the meeting Tuesday, reading aloud a government statement.

Reaffirming that policy of neutrality — first issued in 2012 — had been a priority for Hariri, whose perplexing statement of resignation last month specifically criticized Hezbollah for interfering in neighboring nations' affairs.

The Iran-backed Shiite militant group shares power in Lebanon's tenuously balanced coalition government with Hariri, who heads a predominantly Sunni political party, as well as President Michel Aoun, a Maronite Christian. Hezbollah also has men fighting for Shiite interests in Syria, Iraq and Yemen — placing it at at loggerheads with Sunni Saudi Arabia, which has been waging a regional cold war of competing interests with Iran.

It's partly for this reason that many Lebanese suspect Saudis had a hand in Hariri's surprise resignation, read in a televised address last month from the Saudi capital, Riyadh. Those suspicions escalated as Hariri stuck around Saudi Arabia afterward, staying away from Lebanon for more than two weeks and inspiring speculation he was even being held against his will. Protests from Lebanon's other leaders followed.

It was only after he finally returned that, in another dramatic twist, Hariri provisionally suspended his resignation on condition that Lebanon more closely examine the considerable role played by Hezbollah — and, in turn, the group's Iranian backers. It appears the conversations since his return have proven satisfactory, as he made his withdrawal of that resignation official Tuesday.

Now that the crisis in Lebanon has reached a resolution — at least for the time being — the political implications for the country remain unclear. The country only managed to agree to its present governing arrangement last year after more than two years of deadlock and political vacuum at the top.

In his comments Tuesday, Hariri stressed that whatever the future may hold for the region, Lebanon must remain aloof.

"Developments in the region suggest a new wave of conflict. ... Perhaps the conflict is nearing the end, and Lebanon cannot be plunged into chaos on the finish line," he said in the Cabinet meeting, according to Reuters.

"If we are rejecting interference by any state in Lebanese affairs, it cannot be that we accept that any Lebanese side interferes in the affairs of Arab states," he added.

"We have to address this issue, and take a decision announcing our disassociation, in words and deeds. We must be convinced that interfering in the internal affairs of the Gulf States has serious repercussions on our situation and our interests."

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