PARIS (Reuters) - France’s foreign ministry on Friday nuanced comments made earlier by its minister, suggesting that former Lebanese Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri may not be free and urging that he continue to play his rightful role in the country.
Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian had told Europe 1 radio that as far as France was aware, Hariri “was free of his movements” and that it was “important he made his own choices.”
However, when asked by reporters in a daily briefing to clarify those comments, a foreign ministry spokesman said France wanted Hariri to be free, suggesting he may not be.
“We wish that Saad al-Hariri has all his freedom of movement and be fully able to play the essential role that is his in Lebanon,” deputy foreign ministry spokesman Alexandre Georgini said.
He added that France’s envoy to Saudi Arabia had seen Hariri after a short-trip to the United Arab Emirates earlier this week.
French officials said the ministry’s latest comments were the most accurate.
France’s ambassador to Saudi met Hariri before President Emmanuel Macron’s unscheduled visit to Riyadh to meet Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman on Thursday.
Paris has close ties with Lebanon, a former colony, and with Hariri, who has a home in France after spending several years in the country. Macron said in Dubai on Thursday there had been informal contacts with Hariri, but no request to transfer him to France.
Two top Lebanese government officials said on Thursday that Riyadh was holding Hariri captive and a third told Reuters that the Saudi authorities had ordered Hariri to resign while he was in Riyadh last weekend, and put him under house arrest.
Le Drian is due in Saudi Arabia on Nov. 16 and is scheduled to also travel to Iran later in the month.
Reporting by John Irish and Dominique Vidalon; editing by Michel Rose