French President Emmanuel Macron has called on Lebanon to change its political leadership standing in the way of reforms vital to save its stricken economy.
Mr Macron, who was speaking on his flight home from a regional summit on Iraq in Jordan on Friday, said he would work to organise a conference with a “similar format” for Lebanon in the coming weeks.
He said he was “convinced” that problems in the Middle East can only be resolved “if we find a framework for discussion that includes Iran, given its influence in the region”.
“The problem with Lebanon is that we must solve people's problems and get rid of those who cannot do it,” Mr Macron said, referring to the country's entrenched political class — widely blamed for the country's financial collapse in late 2019.
“Lebanon must change its leadership,” he said in an interview with three media outlets including Lebanon's An-Nahar newspaper.
The country has been without a president since Michel Aoun's six-year mandate ended in October, while prime minister-designate Najib Mikati heads a caretaker government because political divisions have prevented the creation of a new cabinet since a general election in May.
The parliament is divided between the powerful Iran-backed Hezbollah movement and its allies and their opponents, which has prevented agreement on a consensus presidential candidate.
Mr Macron has taken the lead in international efforts to bail out the Lebanese economy after a collapse in the value of the Lebanese pound plunged most of the population into poverty.
International lenders have demanded that Lebanon adopt a programme of painful economic reforms in return for releasing billions of dollars in bailout loans.
But deadlock between opposing alliances that have dominated Lebanon since the 1975 to 1990 civil war have left the country with only a caretaker government since an inconclusive May election and a vacant presidency since last month.
“The question is: this caste that lives off Lebanon, does it have the courage to change?” Mr Macron asked.
He said he was dismayed to see the mass emigration of young Lebanese who had taken to the streets at the start of the crisis in late 2019 to demand political and economic reform.
“My answer is to try to help bring a political alternative to life … and to be intractable with political forces.
“I care about Lebanese men and women, not those living off their backs,” he said.
Mr Macron said the priority now was to have “honest” people as president and as prime minster capable of moving swiftly to restructure Lebanon's failed financial system.
The French leader would not be drawn on whether he supported army chief Joseph Aoun as a consensus choice for president.
“I don't want to discuss names. If there isn't a plan and a strategy behind the name, they won't succeed,” he said.