Maronite Patriarch Beshara al-Rahi held separate talks Tuesday in in Riyadh with Saudi King Salman, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and Prime Minister Saad Hariri as part of a historic visit to the kingdom.
The visit comes amid tensions between the two countries after Hariri’s shock resignation.
The patriarch and the king “reviewed fraternal relations between the kingdom and Lebanon and confirmed the importance of the role of different religions and cultures in promoting tolerance, renouncing violence, extremism and terrorism,” the state-run Saudi Press Agency said.
Al-Rahi later met with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and Hariri.
Hariri’s Future TV said the Rahi-Hariri meeting was “excellent” and that it tackled “the latest local developments.”
LBCI television said Hariri did not inform al-Rahi of a date for his return to Lebanon. The TV network however reported that Hariri is expected to return to Lebanon this week or at the beginning of next week.
Hariri stepped down during a televised address on November 4 from Riyadh, where he is rumored to be under de facto house arrest, despite his insistence that he was “free.”
Al-Rahi’s trip symbolizes a rare inter-religious exchange in the ultra-conservative kingdom, which is home to the holiest sights in Islam.
“Patriarch Beshara al-Rahi’s… visit stresses the kingdom’s approach for peaceful coexistence, closeness and openness for all sections of Arabic people,” Saudi Gulf affairs minister Thamer al-Sabhan said on Twitter.
Upon his arrival, the patriarch met with members of the Lebanese community.
“We will maintain a strong friendship between Saudi Arabia and Lebanon,” he said.
“This is our history even if we have had stormy relations sometimes. (There) is a history of friendship with this dear kingdom.”
Hariri’s resignation, which has thrown Lebanon into crisis, came against the backdrop of mounting tensions between Sunni Saudi Arabia and Shiite Iran, which back opposing sides in power struggles in hotspots such as Syria and Yemen.
French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian has said France was “worried by the situation in Lebanon” and wanted to see the government there “stabilize as quickly as possible.”
He is set to visit the Saudi capital on Thursday.
France joined Germany and the European Union on Monday in calling for an end to external interference in Lebanon.