November 27, 2017 / 12:15 PM / 14 days ago

Lebanon's Aoun holds talks on Hariri government

BEIRUT (Reuters) - President Michel Aoun held talks on Monday with other Lebanese political leaders over the future of Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri’s government, but gave no sign whether they discussed Hariri’s demand the country steer clear of regional turmoil.

Lebanese President Michel Aoun meets with Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri, and Lebanese Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri at the presidential palace in Baabda, Lebanon November 27, 2017. Dalati Nohra/Handout via REUTERS

Aoun’s office said the talks were positive and constructive but did not detail steps to address the demands Hariri made after postponing his shock resignation, notably that Lebanese stick by the state policy of staying out of regional conflicts - a reference to Iran-backed Shi‘ite group Hezbollah.

The consultations would continue once Aoun returns on Friday from an official visit to Italy, the statement said.

A senior Lebanese official said the consultations at the presidential palace in Baabda aimed to help Hariri’s government “get back on its feet”, after weeks of political instability triggered by Hariri’s Nov. 4 resignation, announced in Riyadh.

Lebanese officials say Saudi Arabia forced Hariri to resign and held him against his will, triggering an intervention by France which led to his return to Beirut last week.

Lebanese President Michel Aoun meets with Lebanese Druze politician Walid Jumblatt at the presidential palace in Baabda, Lebanon November 27, 2017. Dalati Nohra/Handout via REUTERS

Riyadh says Hariri, Lebanon’s top Sunni Muslim politician and a long-time Saudi ally, resigned freely and denies holding him.

In his resignation speech, Hariri strongly criticised Iran and its heavily armed Lebanese Shi‘ite Muslim ally Hezbollah for meddling in the Arab world. Since returning to Beirut, Hariri has said all Lebanese must stick by the state policy of “disassociation”, or keeping out of regional conflicts - a reference to Hezbollah.

Leading Druze politician Walid Jumblatt, an influential figure in Lebanon, said after meeting Aoun that it was important to talk about “disassociation”, and how to achieve it.

He said it would be wise not to bring up the question of Hezbollah’s weapons in discussions, referring to previous rounds of futile talks on this point.

The senior Lebanese official said the “consultations might end with Lebanon reaffirming the ministerial statement that implicitly includes disassociation”. The official spoke on condition of anonymity as Aoun’s consultations were not over.

Hariri said on Saturday he would not accept “Hezbollah stances that affect our Arab brothers or target the security and stability of their countries”.

Reporting by Tom Perry and Laila Bassam; editing by Mark Heinrich and William Maclean

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