French minister in Beirut to pressure Lebanese officials into forming Cabinet

Mr Le Drian had warned that France would take punitive measures against those blocking the formation of a government

French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, looks on as he meets with Lebanese President Michel Aoun at the Presidential Palace in Baabda, east of Beirut, Lebanon, Thursday, May 6, 2021. Le Drian is in Beirut for two days visit to meet with Lebanese officials. (AP Photo/Hussein Malla)
French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, looks on as he meets with Lebanese President Michel Aoun at the Presidential Palace in Baabda, east of Beirut, Lebanon, Thursday, May 6, 2021. Le Drian is in Beirut for two days visit to meet with Lebanese officials. (AP Photo/Hussein Malla)

French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian met Lebanese President Michel Aoun on Thursday, the latest effort by Paris to pressure the country's rival political parties into forming a Cabinet.

Mr Le Drian had warned a day prior to his arrival in Beirut that France would take punitive measures against those blocking the formation of a government that would help Lebanon tackle its economic crisis.

During his meeting with Mr Le Drian, Mr Aoun blamed prime minister designate Saad Hariri for the political impasse gripping Lebanon and said he would pursue efforts to form a Cabinet that secures a vote of confidence in parliament.

“President Aoun indicated that he will pursue efforts to attain practical results despite domestic and external obstacles, and a lack of cooperation by those concerned,” Mr Aoun’s office quoted the president as telling Mr Le Drian, in a thinly-veiled reference to Mr Hariri.

Mr Aoun said he also asked for France’s help in retrieving embezzled funds that have been channeled overseas and in cracking down on corruption.

Last week, the French foreign minister said his country had started putting in place measures to restrict the entry of some Lebanese officials to France for their role in the political crisis that has left Lebanon without a fully functioning government for almost eight months.

There has been no official announcement on what measures were taken, and against whom. French officials declined to give details.

Mr Le Drian also met Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri and Mr Hariri, who has been at loggerheads with the president over the Cabinet’s composition and reform agenda.

The political crisis has fuelled concerns that Mr Hariri might step down if the deadlock persists.

Mr Hariri has accused Mr Aoun of blocking the formation of a Cabinet of non-partisan experts tasked with undertaking structural reforms, claims that the president has denied.

France leads international efforts to rescue Lebanon from its deepest crisis since the 1975-1990 civil war, but after eight months has failed to persuade squabbling politicians to adopt a reform road map or form a new government to unlock international aid.

It is not clear what effect any punitive actions taken would have, because several key Lebanese figures have dual nationality and could not be restricted, while others who could be accused of hindering the political process rarely travel to France.

Diplomats said the national punitive measures could have a negative effect by hardening positions in Beirut.

Updated: May 7, 2021 12:25 PM

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