By Sarah Dadouch and John Irish
BEIRUT/PARIS (Reuters) - Lebanon's president said on Thursday he hoped the crisis over Saad al-Hariri's resignation as prime minister and stay in Saudi Arabia would soon end with Hariri visiting France.
On Wednesday France invited Hariri and his family to Paris, providing what French diplomats have described as a way-out for him to leave Saudi Arabia without any side losing face.
Lebanese President Michel Aoun said earlier this week that Hariri, who abruptly announced his resignation while in Saudi Arabia on Nov. 4, was being held hostage by Riyadh.
The crisis has embroiled Lebanon in the Middle East's bitter rivalry that pits Saudi Arabia and its allies against a bloc led by Iran that includes the Lebanese Shi'ite Hezbollah group.
"We hope the crisis is over and the door of solution is opened by PM Hariri's acceptance of the invitation to visit France," Aoun said in a tweet on Thursday.
"The problem of Hariri's being held in Saudi Arabia is on its way to being solved," presidential sources also quoted Aoun as saying.
After meeting Hariri in Riyadh on Thursday, French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said Hariri would "soon come to Paris". Asked when he would go to France, Hariri told reporters "very soon", according to an official present at the meeting.
Saudi Arabia last week accused Lebanon of declaring war on it, citing Hezbollah's role in other Arab countries. The group has fought alongside Iran in Syria against Saudi-backed rebels. Riyadh also accuses it of helping the Houthi group in Yemen fight a Saudi-led coalition.
Western states have taken a markedly softer tone than Riyadh, stressing their support for both Hariri and the Beirut government even though they see Hezbollah as a terrorist group. Lebanon's army is a significant recipient of U.S. military aid.
On Thursday, Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir said Saudi Arabia was consulting with its allies about what leverage to use against Hezbollah. "We will make the decision when the time comes," he told Reuters in an interview.
Hariri has long been allied to Saudi Arabia. He traveled there on Nov. 3 and suddenly resigned the following day. He has since left Riyadh only for an hours-long visit to Saudi Arabia's Gulf ally the UAE on Nov. 7.
His resignation while abroad, alleging a plot against his life and railing against Iran and Hezbollah, led to speculation in Beirut about Saudi Arabia's role in the decision.
Top Lebanese officials and senior politicians close to Hariri say he was forced to quit and was being held by the Saudis. Politicians from all sides in Lebanon have called for his return to Beirut.
Saudi Arabia has denied forcing him to resign or detaining him. Hariri has said he is free to leave and would return soon to formally submit his resignation, which Aoun has said he will accept only in person.
Aoun said in a statement that once Hariri returned to Lebanon he would have to stay until a new government was formed.
In an interview on Sunday, his first public comments since resigning, Hariri warned of possible Saudi action against Lebanon, including the risk of Arab sanctions and threats to the livelihood of Lebanese workers in the Gulf.
Lebanon hosts 1.5 million Syrian refugees and its stability is seen internationally as important to prevent further Middle East chaos.
Lebanese Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil had toured European capitals seeking diplomatic help to end the crisis. On Thursday he was in Germany and is scheduled to visit Turkey. On Friday he will visit Russia.
France's foreign minister, Le Drian, said Paris was working to normalize the situation in Lebanon. After meeting Le Drian, Jubeir described Hezbollah as an arm of Iran's Revolutionary Guards and said it must disarm and become a purely political party for Lebanon to be stable.
"Whenever we see a problem, we see Hezbollah act as an arm or agent of Iran and this has to come to an end," he said.
France is closely allied to both Saudi Arabia and to Lebanon, which it controlled between the world wars last century. Hariri has a home in Paris and lived there for years.
(Reporting By Sarah Dadouch and Samia Nakhoul in Beirut, John Irish in Paris and Stephen Kalin in Riyadh; Writing by Angus McDowall; Editing by Richard Balmforth and Andrew Heavens)