Lebanon is sinking while its leaders talk aimlessly and fail to enact reforms, French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said Sunday.
“We are nearly on board the Titanic, but without the orchestra,” Le Drian said about Lebanon in an interview with French broadcaster France Inter. “The people talk endlessly but nothing happens.”
Le Drian’s comments come just days after French President Emmanuel Macron visited the crisis-hit country to deliver a proposed reform road map to Prime Minister-designate Mustapha Adib. Adib was selected as the new premier after the previous government was forced to resign following the massive Aug. 4 port explosion.
In the wake of the blast that killed more than 190 people and caused up to $8.1 billion in losses, France convened a UN-backed conference to support the Lebanese people.
Donors pledged nearly $300 million to respond to Lebanon’s immediate humanitarian needs, vowing after the conference to channel the funds to non-governmental organizations rather the Lebanese authorities, whom they considered too corrupt to handle the money.
Macron Tuesday pledged to hold a second donor conference in October to raise additional funds for rebuilding Beirut, but only if Adib’s new government quickly gets to work on the points set out in the French-designed road map.
“We know that half the population is under the poverty line, that the [Central] Bank is close to failing and no longer has liquidity, but that no reform is happening,” Le Drian said. “And yet this same country has just asked for international aid.”
Clearly nonplussed by the lack of action, Le Drian pointed to the fact that France in 2018 organized another international donor conference that put $11 billion at Lebanon’s disposal, subject to reforms being implemented.
These include revamping the electricity sector, which bleeds $2 billion from the Treasury annually, as well as fiscal and governance reforms.
These same measures are included in Macron’s road map, which also calls for Adib’s government to immediately resume stalled bailout talks with the International Monetary Fund and to make a slew of key administrative and civil service appointments within one month.
Describing the country as “on the verge of distress,” Le Drian emphasized France’s friendly, historic relations with Lebanon, saying that the former occupier’s role was to “help observe the implementation of the reforms with the international community.”
“Everyone has their role, and we are in a friendly role,” he said.
On Hezbollah’s involvement in the incoming government, which Adib has said will be composed of independent specialists, Le Drian indicated that the political wing of the group could not be sidelined. Given this reality, he called on Lebanon to implement a policy of disossciation from regional conflicts and axes.
“There is Hezbollah the military group, which the EU considers a terrorist organisation, and then you have Hezbollah the political group, that the Lebanese elected,” he said. “It’s a political group.”
France’s stance on Hezbollah differs markedly from that of the United States, which does not distinguish between the group’s military and political wings.
Macron has also called on the US not to hit Lebanon with more sanctions, saying that they play into the hands of Iran and that the Trump administration should instead “reinvest" in Lebanon to help rebuild it.
The US is nevertheless expected to issue a new round of Lebanon-specific US sanctions in the coming weeks, according to informed sources.
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