The crisis has thrust Lebanon into the regional rivalry pitting Saudi Arabia and its allies against a bloc led by Iran, which includes the heavily armed Lebanese Shi’ite Hezbollah group.
Aoun has called Hariri a Saudi hostage and refused to accept his resignation unless he returns to Lebanon. Saudi Arabia and Hariri say his movements are not restricted.
Lebanon maintains a delicate sectarian balance after Sunnis, Shi’ites, Christians and Druze fought a civil war between 1975 and 1990, with factions often backed by regional rivals.
Hariri, a Sunni Muslim, is a long-time ally of Saudi Arabia. Aoun, a Christian, is a political ally of Hezbollah. Hariri’s government, a power-sharing coalition formed last year, includes Hezbollah.
France, which controlled Lebanon between the world wars, has sought to play a key role in defusing tension with Macron personally getting involved and putting him at the heart of a regional power struggle that will test his diplomatic skills.
That was evident since the outbreak of the Lebanese crisis over the last week with a surprise visit to Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in Riyadh, followed by a flurry of calls, sending his foreign minister to Saudi Arabia and then the invitation to Hariri, which caught many diplomats unawares.
While undoubtedly a diplomatic coup for Macron, some regional and French diplomats have cautioned that his strategy to try to appease all sides in the region may backfire.
Paris has intensified its rhetoric over Iran’s regional activities. On Thursday, Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, speaking alongside his Saudi counterpart, denounced Tehran’s “hegemonic temptations”. Iran responded by accusing France of taking sides and Macron on Friday said Iran should clarify its ballistic missile programme. That was met by a rebuke in Tehran.
On Saturday, Ali Akbar Velayati, a senior adviser to Iran’s supreme leader, said Macron should stay out of its affairs.