This is a translation of Prime Minister Saad Hariri's interview to the French weekly "Paris-Match", published this morning:
Paris Match - The announcement of your resignation from Riyadh seemed forced. Were you "detained" by the Saudis, as Lebanese President Michel Aoun said?
Hariri - No, that is not true. I resigned from Riyadh with the intention of creating a positive shock for Lebanon. Many stories have been told on this issue. However, if I had been detained, I would not be here in Beirut today. Before that, I was able to go to Paris, Egypt, Cyprus. I was free.
Paris Match - All the time?
Hariri - Yes, I went to Paris when President Macron invited me there.
Paris Match - Will you resume your role as Prime Minister as if nothing had happened?
Hariri - Yes, I wanted the world to understand that Lebanon can no longer tolerate the interferences of a party like Hezbollah in the affairs of the Gulf countries, where 300,000 Lebanese live. They are very important for our economy. We must not pay for the actions of Hezbollah.
Paris Match - Let us talk about this party, that is represented in your government and that you accused, along with its Iranian mentor, of operating a "stranglehold" on Lebanon. But Hezbollah called for your return. Have you changed your opinion?
Hariri - We have to make a distinction. In Lebanon, Hezbollah has a political role. It has weapons, of course, but it does not use them on Lebanese soil. Lebanon's interest is to ensure that these weapons are not used elsewhere. That is where the problem lies.
Paris Match - So when Hezbollah intervenes in Syria or Yemen, even if its leader Hassan Nasrallah denies it, do you oppose that?
Hariri - Of course. Too much blood has been spilled in the region. I fear that Hezbollah's interference abroad will end up costing Lebanon dearly. I will not accept that a Lebanese political party participates in maneuvers that serve the interests of Iran.
Paris Match - Are you afraid that the war will return?
Hariri - Lebanon lives a small miracle. We did not have to endure what is happening in Syria, Iraq, Libya, Yemen, and, in the beginning, Egypt. No one here wants to relive a civil war. Therefore, it is fundamental to implement a policy of unison, with the interests of Lebanon as main concern.
Paris Match - In a way, the memory of horrors brings you closer to your opponents Hezbollah?
Hariri - Of course, all Lebanese have lived through this atrocious civil war. Our points of view are opposed. Someone who does not know anything about Lebanese politics would say that there is no reason for us to talk to each other. In the interest of Lebanon, and for its stability, we have chosen dialogue. The region is ravaged by confessional clashes. We experienced very strong tensions. We preferred to calm the game.
Paris Match - You mentioned threats to your life. Have they disappeared?
Hariri - They are always here. I have many enemies, the extremists and the Syrian regime. The latter pronounced a death sentence against me. They accuse me of interference in their country. Frankly, can you imagine us Lebanese interfering in Syria? (laughs)
Paris Match - You just appointed a new ambassador to Damascus after four years of vacancy. Is this the sign of an evolution in your relation?
Hariri - We always wanted diplomatic relations with Syria, which for a long time refused to recognize our independence. In 2010, I went to Damascus, and it was finally recognized. To appoint an ambassador is to perpetuate this recognition, whatever the regime in Damascus.
Paris Match - There is also the fate of the 1.5 million Syrians living in Lebanon.
Hariri - If a real political solution exists, they will return. Syrians are not like Palestinians; they have a country of their own and do not want to stay. For these refugees too, the stability of Lebanon is fundamental. If chaos sets in, they will flee the country. And they will go to your countries, in Europe.
Paris Match - Do you recognize that Bashar el Assad won the war?
Hariri - He did not win. Presidents Putin and Rouhani won.
Paris Match - He is here though. At the beginning, everybody said he was going to leave...
Hariri - Yes of course, he is here, but he has to leave.
Paris Match - Do you still believe that?
Hariri - We are mistaken in imagining that the victory against Daesh solved the problem. The problem in Syria is Bachar el Assad. It started in 2011 and at the time, Daesh did not exist.
Paris Match - Daesh is mostly born in Iraq, as a consequence of the American invasion ...
Hariri - Yes, it came from there. We must not forget the actions of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki (Shiite). He made an alliance with the Sahwa (Sunni tribal anti-Qaeda militias) and promised to include all sects. When Al-Qaeda was defeated, he reverted his weapons against the Sahwa. Daesh came to Syria. They used a cause, that of the revolution. Besides, how many people did Daesh kill in the world? 10,000, 20,000, maybe 30,000. How many did Bashar al-Assad kill? 700,000.
Paris Match - In this war, half of the dead are from his side. Is he responsible for everything?
Hariri - No, but he is the head of the country and in a normal country, the head does not use armed forces against his people. At first, the revolt was peaceful.
Paris Match - Crown Prince Mohamed Ben Salman is an enigma. For some, he is an autocrat obsessed with Iran. For others, an adversary of corruption, who will allow women to drive. You who know him well, who is he?
Hariri - He is a moderate who wants to make a policy of openness for his country.
Paris Match - By keeping the princes under house arrest in a hotel?
Hariri - He explained himself concerning that. He seeks to fight corruption. Look at what he did economically. He advocates moderation and authorizes, as you pointed out, women to drive. In the past, there were no cinemas, no concerts in Saudi Arabia. He wants an authentic opening of Saudi society. His opposition to Iranian politics comes from the interference that Saudi Arabia is suffering from, in Iraq, Yemen and Bahrain. Yes, there is a problem with Iran. Of course, we Lebanese would like to have the best relations, economic in particular, with Iran. However, they must be in the mutual interest of our two countries.
Paris Match - When "MBS" qualifies Ayatollah Khamenei, the Iranian Supreme Leader, of being "Hitler of the Middle East", do you agree with him?
Hariri - Each person has his way of expressing himself.
Paris Match - It is not really a stabilization language...
Hariri - You remember the word "Hitler" and you do not mention what Khamenei has been saying about the Saudis for years, calling them "crazy." These excessive terms are often part of the language of the region...
Paris Match - Israel and Saudi Arabia moved closer together. If the Israelis decide to attack Iranian interests and Hezbollah in Syria, how will you react?
Hariri - We will not react if it happens in Syria.
Paris Match - Even if they violate your airspace?
Hariri - We record every violation of our airspace at the UN Security Council. But Lebanon cannot do anything. Even Bashar al-Assad, with every strike, says: "We will respond in due time and in the way we choose." That will be the problem of Syria, not ours.
Paris Match - What has been the role of France in this crisis?
Hariri - It is the country that has gathered the international community around Lebanon. President Macron spoke with everyone: Americans, Europeans, Iran, and Russia. The relations between our two countries are certainly historic but that is not all. People do not want wars anymore.
Paris Match - What did President Macron tell you when you spoke to him at the beginning of the crisis?
Hariri - "Why did you resign?" he asked. I told him that I needed to create an electric-shock for our country. We have an excellent relationship. We talk to each other often.
Paris Match - He must have told you that resigning was giving up, right?
Hariri - He told me that if I wanted to resign, I had to go back to Lebanon, to do things in the right manner.
Paris Match - In handling this crisis, do you feel that Emmanuel Macron pulled the Saudis out of a bad step?
Hariri - President Macron acted in the interest of France, Lebanon and the region. He acted to avoid another war, and it will be said one day that he played a historical role.
Paris Match - 240 French employees of your Saudi Oger company have not received their salaries for two years. What are you going to do for them?
Hariri - The Saudi government must pay its arrears. As soon as it does, we will pay the salaries. We are handling this issue very seriously.
Paris Match - Have you been able to visit Jacques Chirac, whom you are very close to?
Hariri - Unfortunately not, but I called Claude. And on my next visit to Paris, I will go to see President Chirac. My mother-in-law (Rafic Hariri's widow) was able to talk to him when I was still in Saudi Arabia.
Paris Match - Your father, Rafic Hariri, assassinated in 2005, left his mark in Lebanon, notably rebuilding the city center of Beirut after the war. What image do you want to leave for posterity?
Hariri - I want a stable country. We live in the age of new technologies. The Lebanese have a taste for innovation. Infrastructure must be created so that they can excel in these areas. There is a convergence of views on this, between President Macron and myself. Lebanon is a small country but soon it will be a model of success in the Arab world.
Source: National News Agency