BEIRUT•Lebanon's President will not accept the resignation of Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri until he returns to Lebanon, Presidential Palace sources said yesterday, delaying for now the politically difficult consultations on his successor.
Mr Hariri left Lebanon for Saudi Arabia last Friday and resigned the next day in a televised statement that took the Lebanese political establishment by surprise.
He cited an assassination plot against him and criticised the regional role of Iran and its Lebanese ally Hizbollah.
However, Lebanon's army said yesterday that it had not uncovered any such plot.
The move has thrust Lebanon back into the arena of regional rivalry between Sunni Muslim Saudi Arabia, an ally of Mr Hariri, and Shi'ite Muslim Iran, which backs Hizbollah.
President Michel Aoun, a political ally of Hizbollah, will wait to accept or reject Mr Hariri's resignation until he returns to explain his reasons, sources at the Presidential Palace said.
Saudi-owned newspaper Asharq al-Awsat cited unnamed sources close to Mr Hariri as speculating that he would probably remain outside Lebanon because of the security threat against him.
Central Bank governor Riad Salameh sought to calm fears that the political turmoil unleashed by Mr Hariri's bid to resign would hit Lebanon's already fragile economy, issuing a statement to reaffirm the stability of its currency, which is pegged against the US dollar.
In Lebanon's sectarian system the president must be a Maronite Catholic, the prime minister a Sunni and the Speaker of Parliament a Shi'ite.
Mr Hariri is Lebanon's most influential Sunni politician.
His father, Mr Rafik al-Hariri, was prime minister after Lebanon's 1975-1990 civil war and was assassinated in a car bombing in 2005.
A United Nations-backed tribunal indicted five Hizbollah members for the killing but the group denies any involvement.
Saudi media has published reports of a plot to assassinate Mr Hariri in recent days, but all of Lebanon's main security branches have said they have no information about such a plot.
A Saudi minister said last Saturday that Mr Hariri's personal security detail had "confirmed information" about the plot. Mr Thamer al-Sabhan said in an interview with a Lebanese TV station that there are "threats against the Prime Minister and the (Saudi) kingdom is keen for his security".