- Hamad I Mohammed/Reuters; Mohamed Azakir/Reuters
- Lebanon’s prime minister mysteriously disappeared and resigned on TV during a trip to Saudi Arabia last year.
- Saad al-Hariri returned home three weeks later, in a trip brokered by France, and suspended his resignation.
- The Lebanese government believed he was held against his will at the time, though Hariri and Saudi Arabia have both denied it.
- Hariri told an event on Thursday that his relationship with the kingdom “couldn’t be better.”
- He also exonerated the Saudi government over the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, who died at the hands of Saudi agents in October.
LONDON – Saad al-Hariri, the Lebanese prime minister who mysteriously disappeared and resigned during a trip to Saudi Arabia last year, said his relationship with the kingdom “couldn’t be better.”
Speaking at an event in London on Thursday, which Business Insider attended, he also exonerated the Saudi government over the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, who died at the hands of Saudi agents in the kingdom’s consulate in Istanbul in October.
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is widely believed to have orchestrated Khashoggi’s death, despite Riyadh’s attempts to declare him innocent.
- Chatham House
The kingdom’s prosecutors last month indicted 11 suspects over the death and said the crown prince had no knowledge of the killing. The CIA has reportedly assessed that the crown prince directly ordered the hit, according to the Washington Post.
Hariri, who appeared alongside the crown prince at the kingdom’s major investment conference in October, told Chatham House on Thursday: “I was in Saudi Arabia … for the conference in the midst of what happened with the issue of Khashoggi, which I condemn, and the Saudi government condemns, and the whole world condemns.”
“The Saudi government has also arrested those people and they have done what they should have done,” he added. “I think this whole matter was maybe handled poorly but now it is taking its course to justice.”
- Middle East Monitor via Reuters
Hariri also mentioned Lebanon’s lucrative trade deals with Saudi Arabia, saying that his relationship with them “couldn’t be better.”
“My relationship with Saudi Arabia is a good relationship and I believe that the Saudi market is a good market for Lebanon, and we prepared many agreements that we will be signing with Saudi Arabia as soon as we form a government,” he said.
He was referring to Lebanon’s current efforts to form a new government after general elections this May, in which Hariri’s Future Movement party took a hit and Hezbollah-aligned politicians gained seats.
The country is currently in a political deadlock, heavily in debt, and in need of foreign economic aid.
“As soon as we form a government, we will see Saudi Arabia taking some serious steps with Lebanon, helping Lebanon economically,” Hariri said. “So I think the relationship couldn’t be better.”
Hariri’s mysterious resignation and un-resignation
- REUTERS/Mohamed Azakir
Hariri resigned as prime minister on TV while visiting Saudi Arabia last November, ranting against Iran and the Lebanon-based Hezbollah militant group during his speech.
Hariri canceled his resignation immediately upon his return to Lebanon about two weeks later, which French President Emmanuel Macron brokered.
He has since insisted that he acted on his free will, and hasn’t discussed the episode in Riyadh, The New York Times reported.
- Bandar Algaloud/Courtesy of Saudi Royal Court/Handout via Reuters
Lebanese officials have described the gap between his arrival to the kingdom and his resignation as a “black box,” The Times said, describing the disappearance as a kidnapping.
Crown Prince Mohammed, meanwhile, joked about the matter during the investment conference in October.
“Prime Minister Saad is staying in the kingdom for two days, so I hope you don’t spread rumors that he was kidnapped,” the crown prince said at the time, and the audience laughed.
“With all my freedom,” Hariri responded.