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Middle East

Lebanon's Hariri to arrive in France midday Saturday

media Posters of Hariri in a Beirut street this week REUTERS/Jamal Saidi

Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri is to meet French President Emmanuel Macron at the Elysée presidential palace at 12.20 on Saturday, the French presidency announced on Friday afternoon. Earlier in the day, Iran blasted France's "biased" approach to the Middle East after French Foreign Affairs Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian accused it of "hegemonic" ambitions in the region.

Hariri was expected in Paris two weeks to the day after he announced his resignation in Riyadh, where he appeared to have been summoned by the Saudi leadership.

His family will arrive at the Elysée 10 minutes after his arrival for a lunch with Macron and they will stay in France, where the family has property, for several days, according to French officials.

Iran blasts Le Drian

France has intervened in the crisis unleashed by Hariri's resignation, presenting itself as more independent than the US following President Donald Trump's declaration of wholehearted support for Saudi Arabia's policy.

Macron has warned against creating a "new front" in a region already fraught with conflicts, including the war in Yemen.

But Foreign Affairs Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian angered the kingdom's main rival, Iran, by saying he was worried by Iran's "hegemonic" pretentions in the Middle East and its ballistic programme.

The nuclear programme is the subject of an agreement with Western powers, including France, that has been much criticised by Trump, although he has so far stopped short of scrapping it.

"Unfortunately it seems that France has a biased and partisan approach to the crises in the region and this approach, whether intentionally or not, is even contributing to turning potential crises into real ones," Iranian foreign ministry spokesman Bahram Ghassemi said on Friday.

Le Drian was speaking at a press conference with his Saudi counterpart, Adel el-Jubeir, in Riyadh on Thursday.

Jubeir described the Shia-Muslim Hezbullah militia as a "first-class terrorist organisation" and accused it being a "tool in the hands" of Iran.

Ghassemi accused Saudi Arabia of playing an "obviously destructive role" in the region.

"Ignoring the realities of the region and repeating aggressive concerns, which are baseless and knocked together by warmongering Saudi officials does not help to resolve regional crises," he said.

Aoun welcomes Hariri's Paris trip

In his resignation statement, Hariri laid into Hezbullah in similar terms to Jubeir.

Lebanese President Michel Aoun, an ally of Hezbullah, this week claimed that Hariri was being held against his will, a charge that Jubeir denied, insisting he could leave the country "when he pleases".

Aoun, who has refused to accept Hariri's resignation until he is in Lebanon, welcomed his plan to go to Paris, saying he hoped it was "the start of the solution" in a tweet.

The Arab League is to hold an extraordinary meeting next Sunday at the request of Saudi Arabia to discuss alleged "violations" committed by Iran in the region.

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