Time to 'reinforce pressure' on Lebanese politicians, Le Drian says

French Foreign Minister hints at sanctions as Lebanese elite fail to form government after seven months

FILE PHOTO: French European and Foreign Affairs Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian speaks during a joint press conference in Paris, France March 11, 2021. Ludovic Marin/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo

Lebanon's political elite is "entirely responsible" for stalling the formation of a government and must be pressured into reforms, France's Foreign Minister said on Monday, hinting at the possibility of sanctions.

Jean-Yves Le Drian's comments came after he spoke to Lebanese President Michel Aoun, Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri and Parliamentary Speaker Nabih Berri, the political leaders of Lebanon's three largest sects.

"The minister has indicated to his European, regional and international counterparts that after seven months of deadlock, the time has come for reinforced pressure," Mr Le Drian said.

Two weeks ago, French President Emmanuel Macron hinted at sanctions against Lebanese politicians after he became personally involved in attempts to save Lebanon's battered economy.

"The time of the test of responsibility is coming to an end and there will be a need in the coming weeks, in a very clear manner, to change approach and methods," Mr Macron said.

His latest initiative followed an explosion at Beirut port that destroyed half of the capital and killed more than 200 people last August.

Mr Macron visited Beirut twice after the blast and asked Lebanese politicians to unite in a reformist government, a necessary requirement for the country to receive debt relief and loans from international lenders and donor countries.

Seven months later, Lebanese leaders have failed to present a united Cabinet, choosing instead to argue over their share of ministerial portfolios.

More than half of the Lebanese population now lives below the poverty line, according to UN data, nearly double the poverty rate of 2019.

"All Lebanese political forces are entirely responsible for this impasse," Mr Le Drian said.

Lebanon experienced a financial meltdown in late 2019, which was compounded by the coronavirus pandemic and the port explosion.

Despite these challenges, the country has been run by a caretaker government since Prime Minister Hassan Diab resigned in the wake of the blast.

Mr Hariri has been unable to form a Cabinet acceptable to Mr Aoun as political leaders fight over their share of ministerial seats.

He accused the president of seeking a "blocking third" of ministerial portfolios, the equivalent of a veto. Mr Aoun denies the claim.

A French diplomatic source confirmed to The National  that Paris was exploring the possibility of sanctions in coming weeks.

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