LONDON (Reuters) - An Iranian official said on Tuesday Tehran hoped Saad al-Hariri would remain as Lebanon’s prime minister and denied Hariri had resigned after a tense meeting with him in Beirut.
Hariri resigned abruptly on Nov. 4 while in Saudi Arabia, saying he believed there was an assassination plot against him and accusing Iran and its Lebanese ally Hezbollah of sowing strife in the Arab world.
Hariri had flown to Riyadh on Nov. 3 after a meeting in Beirut with Ali Akbar Velayati, the top adviser to Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
“Hariri claims that in our meeting he asked Iran to stop interfering in the Lebanese affairs, but he did not say such a thing,” Velayati was quoted as saying by Iranian state television’s website.
“Our meeting was not tense or violent at all. These are all lies,” he said.
Velayati accused Saudi Arabia of fanning the flames of tension as it “could not tolerate the strategic friendship” between Tehran and Beirut.
Hariri’s resignation plunged Lebanon into a new political crisis and thrust it into the front line of a regional power play between Sunni Saudi Arabia and Shi’ite Iran that has also buffeted Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Bahrain.
Velayati said Hariri in their meeting offered to mediate between Iran and Saudi Arabia and he welcomed the offer.
Saudi Arabia cut diplomatic ties with Iran in January 2016 after Iranian protesters, angered by the execution of a senior Shi’ite cleric by Riyadh, torched the Saudi Embassy in Tehran.
Velayati said Tehran hoped Hariri would return to Lebanon and continue as prime minister “if Lebanese laws allow”.
In a television interview on Sunday, Hariri said he would return to his country within days and held out the possibility he could rescind his resignation if Iran-backed Hezbollah agreed to stay out of regional conflicts such as Yemen.
He said he had “talked about the unacceptable Iranian interference in Arab countries” with Velayati in Beirut.
“We cannot continue while Iran and a political party are interfering,” Hariri said, in his first public comments since his resignation.
Reporting by Bozorgmehr Sharafedin; Editing by Janet Lawrence