During a visit to Paris last month, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo made it clear that Washington was not happy with France’s strategy to help resolve the economic and political crisis in Lebanon.
French President Emmanuel Macron spearheaded international efforts to save the former French protectorate from its deepest crisis since the 1975-1990 civil war. He has been to Lebanon twice since a huge explosion at the port of Beirut in August devastated the city.
Macron is trying to use Paris’s historic influence in the former French protectorate to persuade bickering Lebanese politicians to adopt a roadmap and form a new government tasked with rooting out corruption, a prerequisite for them. international donors, including the IMF, to unlock billions of dollars in aid.
He was due to return for a third visit on December 22, but postponed the trip on Thursday after testing positive for coronavirus. An official involved in organizing the visit said he could speak by phone to Lebanese President Michel Aoun but that there were no other plans at the moment.
The 42-year-old leader was immediately confronted with inertia from the restless political class in Lebanon, who bickered and ignored international warnings of the state’s bankruptcy, as well as resistance to his plans from Washington. .
“The Lebanese political class is stuck in its own contradictions and is happy to play the clock,” said Nadim Khoury of the Arab Reform Initiative.
“(Prime Minister-designate) Saad al-Hariri is unable to form a government and internationally the United States will not facilitate France’s efforts to form a government.”
The US objection to Macron’s plan centers on Hezbollah, the Iranian-backed armed movement that wields enormous power in Lebanon and which Washington calls a terrorist group. Hariri, a former prime minister, was tasked with forming a government after Mustapha Adib resigned in September. He has so far struggled to create a cabinet to share power with all Lebanese parties, including Hezbollah.
Paris initially did not want Hariri to take on this role, having previously failed to implement reforms, three French officials said. But given the lack of progress in forming a credible government, Macron did not oppose the nomination.
France claims that the elected branch of Hezbollah has a legitimate political role.
The United States has already imposed sanctions on three political leaders allied with Hezbollah. At a dinner in Paris last month with eight ambassadors, including from Europe, Pompeo made it clear that further action would follow if Hezbollah was in government, according to two people familiar with his visit.
The deadlock has important ramifications for all parties.