French official: Lebanon’s ruling elite ‘not committed to reforms’

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French Minister Delegate for Foreign Trade and Economic Attractiveness Franck Riester tours the site of the August 4, 2020 explosion at Beirut port, Lebanon July 13, 2021. (REUTERS)

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  • Franck Riester is the latest official to scold Lebanese officials for not forming a government
  • Says international economic and financial aid to Lebanon is conditional on achieving credible reforms

NAJIA HOUSSARI July 13, 2021 

BEIRUT: Lebanese officials received another scolding on Tuesday, this time from Franck Riester, French minister delegate for foreign trade and economic attractiveness, in response to their inability to form a government.

“France respects its commitments, unlike the Lebanese ruling class, which has not committed to reforms,” Riester said.

Speaking from the site of the Beirut port explosion, he warned that “Lebanon cannot carry on like this. Sanctions will be issued against officials who obstruct the formation of the government. Our message today is to emphasize our support for the Lebanese, and to remind officials of the promises they made.”

On Tuesday, French and European pressure was exerted on Lebanese officials to move forward with forming a government and not to postpone the upcoming parliamentary elections. French aid to Lebanon, especially in the period after the Beirut port explosion, has also been discussed.

Both Riester and former chief observer of the EU Election Observation Mission (EU EOM), Elena Valenciano, visited Lebanon separately on the same day.

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Families of the Beirut blast victims protest outside the residence of Lebanon’s interior minister whom they accused of stalling a probe into the deadly explosion.

Josep Borrell, high representative of the EU for foreign affairs and security policy, on Monday, announced: “The (foreign) ministers reached a political understanding that a sanctions regime against those who are responsible for the situation (in Lebanon) should be established.”

During their meeting in Brussels, the ministers also gave the green light to put in place a legal framework against political leaders who pushed the country into economic collapse.

“They need to have a Lebanese government in order to avoid a crackdown of the country, fully able to implement the reforms and protect its population,” Borell said.

BACKGROUND

Hariri is expected to visit Cairo to meet Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi. Reportedly, on return, he will present to Aoun a lineup of 24 ministers. If Aoun does not agree, Hariri would end his efforts.

According to a statement issued by the French Embassy, Riester stressed to Lebanese President Michel Aoun the urgent need for Lebanese officials to form a credible and effective government “that works to implement the necessary reforms in the interest of Lebanon and in line with the aspirations of the Lebanese people.”

He said: “France is ready to work with its regional and international partners, especially after the preliminary agreement of the EU’s Foreign Affairs Council on July 12 on establishing a sanctions regime, to pressure those responsible for the political obstruction and to find a way out of this crisis.”

Riester added that international economic and financial aid to Lebanon is conditional on achieving credible reforms.

Aoun told Riester: “The Lebanese have not forgotten French President Emmanuel Macron’s initiatives in the conferences that were held to support Lebanon.”

Riester toured the site of the Beirut port explosion and was briefed on the progress of sorting the rubble which is being carried out by a French company.

“France has stood by Lebanon since the first day of the explosion and will always support Lebanon,” Riester said. “We are tackling the logistics and conducting the necessary studies to ensure the Beirut port can operate normally as soon as possible. We are not backing down from our promises.”

The French Embassy announced a new meeting will soon be held to mobilize international aid for the Lebanese.

“Riester believed that the Lebanese are paying the price of the deepest economic, social, humanitarian, and political crisis in Lebanon,” it said in a statement.

Meanwhile, Valenciano met Aoun, Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri, and caretaker Prime Minister Hassan Diab.

“The parliamentary elections will be held on time next spring,” Aoun assured Valenciano.

Following the meetings, Valenciano tweeted: “Encouraging to hear from the president, speaker, and prime minister that elections will be held in 2022 according to schedule. The right to vote must be respected.”

The last and 18th meeting between Aoun and Hariri was on March 22, after which the latter announced that the former was insisting on blocking the third in the government. The two were supposed to meet on Wednesday, but Hariri called Aoun to postpone the meeting because he had an urgent matter to attend to.

Hariri is expected to visit Cairo to meet Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi. Hariri reportedly will return to Beirut and present to Aoun a government lineup of 24 ministers. If Aoun does not agree, Hariri would end his efforts.

On Monday evening, Hariri met former premiers to discuss possible scenarios, including the possibility of his resignation.

Deputy Speaker Elie Ferzli said on Tuesday that Hariri “is trying as much as possible to deal with the issue of forming the government himself with the tools available and he will try to interpret things on the ground soon.”

Hariri is due to announce his position in a televised speech on Thursday.

Meanwhile, French presidential envoy Patrick Durel arrived in Beirut on Tuesday. Durel’s meeting with Hariri focused on “the issue of forming a government.” He also met with the head of the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) lawmaker Gebran Bassil.

Bassil received a call on Tuesday from the Russian president’s special envoy to the Middle East, Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov, in which he stressed, “the absolute necessity to expedite the formation of a government capable of achieving reforms and ending the collapse.”

source French official: Lebanon’s ruling elite ‘not committed to reforms’ (arabnews.com)

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