Lebanese PM Hariri visits ally Saudi Arabia

Riyadh: Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri has held talks with Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman during his first visit to traditional ally Saudi Arabia since returning to the post in November.

The Hariri family’s decades-long ties to the Saudi monarchy cooled last year over financial troubles involving the construction giant led by the billionaire politician.

Saudi-born Hariri arrived in Riyadh on King Salman’s private plane on Wednesday after they attended an Arab League summit in Jordan, state media said Thursday.

He met with Prince Mohammed, the kingdom’s defence minister, for talks on “bilateral relations and developing situations across the Middle East,” the SPA state news agency said.

Hariri, the son of assassinated former premier Rafik Hariri, last visited the kingdom in April 2015 after Salman’s accession to the throne.

His relations with Riyadh were tested the following year by the woes of Saudi Oger, the construction giant headed by Hariri which has gone months without paying workers’ salaries.

Saudi Arabia’s ties with Lebanon have also become increasingly tense in recent years over Shiite group Hezbollah’s expanding role in the government and its backing of the Syrian regime.

In 2016, Riyadh declared Hezbollah a “terrorist organisation” and urged its citizens to leave Lebanon.

It also suspended financial aid to the Lebanese army over what it viewed as the rise of the militant Hezbollah, which is backed by Saudi Arabia’s regional rival Iran.

Lebanese President Michel Aoun, an ally of Hezbollah, chose Saudi Arabia for his first visit abroad after he took office in October, in a bid to bridge the gap with one of his country’s main financial backers.

The kingdom has always been the main supporter of Hariri’s Sunni Muslim community, which represents a main faction in the country’s confessional politics.

Agence France-Presse