Why did Saudis invite Hariri to Riyadh summit?

Article Summary
Saudi Arabia further reinforces its influence during a summit held in Riyadh that saw the attendance of both Lebanese President Michel Suleiman and former Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri.

Presidential sources expressed satisfaction about President Michel Suleiman’s visit to Saudi Arabia, both in form and substance. This is particularly notable considering that, in form, it was characterized by a warm welcome that put to rest all previous rumors surrounding the postponement of the previously scheduled visit.

Further, despite the visit’s short time frame, the Saudis were keen on two things occurring:

First was that, during the Lebanese-Saudi summit between Suleiman and King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz, the latter made sure that it was attended by all key princes who hold the reins of power in the kingdom.

Second were the intensive meetings conducted by the president at his residence in the guest palace with the Saudi princes in charge of important portfolios — such as the foreign, interior and national guard ministries — during which discussions centered on issues relating to relations between the two countries.

The sources said, “The most important session was the one that took place between Suleiman and Abdullah — lasting for 1 hour and 10 minutes — which was also attended by the head of the Future Movement, Saad al-Hariri, during which all topics were reviewed without details being discussed. In that session, Abdullah stressed the need for the Lebanese to reach a consensus among themselves and ensure that stability be maintained through a commitment to the Baabda Declaration and a return to the national dialogue table. For his part, Suleiman focused on the need to shield Lebanon from the negative repercussions of surrounding crises, especially the Syrian one, and the need for all parties to commit to the Baabda Declaration. He also talked about supporting Lebanon’s economy within the framework of the historical role played by Saudi Arabia in sponsoring Lebanese harmony and stability, all the while bolstering growth, investment and the national economy.”

Concerning Hariri’s attendance at the summit, the sources said, “The royal desire to see Hariri in attendance could not be rebuffed. Furthermore, as far as the president was concerned, Hariri’s presence was welcomed. It was conducive to attaining the primary objective of the visit, namely restoring relations between Lebanese factions, encouraging dialogue and resolving contentious issues.”

While the sources pointed out that “the practical results of the visit would not necessarily materialize quickly and would be the subject of consultations and communication between the president and Lebanon’s political leaders,” they did expound that key agreements centered on:

  • Maintaining political, economic and security stability in Lebanon;
  • The need for all parties to abide by the national constants that keep Lebanon immune to the repercussions of the events surrounding it, specifically in Syria;
  • Bolstering bilateral relations, in the framework of Saudi Arabia’s role in strengthening unity and stability;
  • The need to find a political solution to the Syrian crisis and put an end to the killing and destruction;
  • Saudi Arabia’s willingness to help and offer Lebanon the support needed to meet the burdens caused by the large number of Syrian refugees;
  • Bolstering moderation and the implementation of the Baabda Declaration, in particular maintaining Lebanon’s neutrality while shielding the country from ongoing conflicts; and,
  • Following-up bilateral consultations through the relevant channels.

The sources also pointed out that “the meeting between Suleiman and Hariri dealt with the various aspects of all internal matters, including the issue of the cabinet, which they thought should be formed, regardless of its composition.”

Diplomatic sources in Beirut commented on the Saudis’ deliberate inclusion of Hariri in the summit meeting between Suleiman and Abdullah by saying: “Those who understand the Saudi mindset realize that this insistence carried with a message to all — at home and abroad — that settling Lebanon’s internal contentious issues, from the formation of the government to oil exploration and others, can only happen with Saad Hariri’s involvement.”

A member of the accompanying delegation told As-Safir that the Lebanese side “felt King Abdullah’s keenness to maintain stability and moderation as well as his caring for all Lebanese expatriates in Saudi Arabia, regardless of their religious affiliations, and his appreciation of President Suleiman’s wisdom.” The same source said, “The issue of the cabinet was not discussed with Saudi officials, because the president’s stance in this regard is well-known and predicated on the continuation of consultations to form a consensus government that is able to win parliamentary trust, which would afford it the capacity to manage national affairs. Discussions focused on the results and conclusions reached during meetings of the International Support Group — established in New York — which decided to back Lebanon’s stability, commit to the Baabda Declaration, reinforce the Lebanese economy, army and the ongoing efforts to deal with the refugee problem through sharing ensuing financial burdens, spreading refugees among various locations, shelter them inside Syria and return them to their homeland once the situation calms down. These are all efforts to which Saudi Arabia pledged its support.”

The same source stressed that Suleiman “perceived King Abdullah’s personal keenness for the continuation of the national dialogue, while affirming that Lebanon’s officials had the primary responsibility to deal with internal issues, which must exclusively be solved by the Lebanese.”

Concerning the cabinet crisis, the source pointed out, “There was agreement on the need to form a government, but the details must be discussed in Lebanon. Saudi Arabia did not interfere in such matters, but only welcomed any advances made in this regard. The authority to form a cabinet sits with the prime minister-designate in coordination with the president.”

He expounded that Suleiman “also observed King Abdullah’s personal commitment to Lebanon and its stability and prosperity. This was in the context of the personal role that the monarch played in this regard. Discussions also touched on the role played by Saudi Arabia in reaching the Taif Agreement, which constituted a protective umbrella for Lebanon.”

The source concluded, “In general, the grand reception at the airport and the content and tone of the talks manifested a desire to advance the positive aspects of matters and reflected an eagerness to maintain moderation and stability, while conforming to the international general penchant for negotiations and consultations.”

Found in: taif agreement, saudi arabia, michel suleiman, lebanon, bilateral relations

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