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Middle East

Hariri welcomed to Paris by Macron as sitting prime minister

media French Presient Emmanuel Macron greets Lebanon's Saad Hariri at the Elysée Palace on Saturday Reuters

French President Emmanuel Macron welcomed Saad Hariri to the Elysée Palace on Saturday "with all the honours due to a prime minister", an official statement said. Hariri flew into Paris earlier in the day from Saudi Arabia, where he had announced his resignation, giving rise to speculation that he did so under pressure.

Macron greeted Hariri warmly before the pair posed for photographs on the steps of the French presidential palace.

They then held a brief meeting before lunching together in the company of their wives, Brigitte and Lara, and Hariri's elder son, Houssam, who has flown in from London.

Macron on Friday said the invitation was "a friendly one, to discuss with him and welcome the prime minister of a friendly country", adding that he was being treated as his country's premier as long as "his resignation has not been recognised in his country because he has not gone there".

After lunching with Macron, Hariri confirmed he would travel to Beirut on Wednesday for the country's Independence Day and but did not confirm his resignation.

He said he would clarify his position after meeting President Michel Aoun there.

Return to Beirut

Earlier on Saturday Aoun thanked Macron for France's "action in favour of Lebanon", in a telephone conversation.

Aoun, who confirmed that Hariri would be in Beirut on Wednesday, is a Maronite Christian, whose Free Patriotic Movement is in an alliance with the Shia-Muslim Hezbollah militia.

In his resignation statement, Hariri denounced Hezbullah's "grip" on Lebanon and accused it of being a tool of Iran.

Aoun refused to accept the prime minister's resignation, insisting that he must declare his intentions while on Lebanese soil and insinuating that it was done under Saudi pressure.

Saudi face saved, Iran angered

Hariri is a Saudi citizen and has investments in Saudi Arabia.

His family owns a substantial amount of property in France.

Macron's intervention in the crisis has been widely praised as saving the Saudis' face while providing a possible solution to the situation in Lebanon.

The French government has angered Saudi Arabia's main regional rival, Iran, though.

French Foreign Affairs Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian on Thursday accused Tehran of "hegemonic ambitions" in the Middle East and expressed concern over its ballistic missile programme.

On Friday Macron called on Tehran to "less aggressive" and to clarify its ballistic strategy.

"It's not in Mr Macron's interests nor in France's to interfere in the affairs of the Islamic republic, which we are very sensitive about," Ali Akbar Velayati, the principal advisor of Supreme Guide Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said on Saturday, according to state-run media.

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