U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Friday there is “no indication” that resigned Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri has been detained by the Saudis against his will.
Hariri announced he would step down as Lebanese prime minister while in Saudi Arabia last Saturday.
While en route from Beijing to Danang Friday, Tillerson told the traveling press that he was assured by Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir that Hariri’s decision to step down was solely “on his own.” The two top diplomats spoke on Tuesday.
“As you probably know he [Hariri] is a dual citizen of Lebanon and Saudi Arabia. His family has been living in Saudi Arabia for quite some time by his choice, so the foreign minister assured me this was a decision taken solely by him,” Tillerson said.
Tillerson added Hariri “needs to go back to Lebanon” to make the resignation official “so that the government of Lebanon can function properly.”
Government officials in Beirut have said they believe Hariri is being held in Saudi Arabia, amid a deepening crisis pushing Lebanon onto the frontlines of a power struggle between Saudi Arabia and Iran.
Saudi Arabia supported Hariri and his allies during years of political conflict in Lebanon with Iran-backed Hezbollah.
The U.S. said it is watching carefully the situation surrounding Hariri’s resignation, while asking other outside parties to stay out of it.
“I think the current structure of the government has been able to maintain a relative calm, peace within Lebanon,” Tillerson said, “so anytime you upset this balance of power-sharing that has been successful, it does create the potential for things to shift one direction or the other.”
In his resignation speech televised from Saudi Arabia, Hariri denounced Iran and Hezbollah for sowing friction in Arab states and said he feared assassination. His father, a former prime minister, was killed by a bomb in 2005.