French presidential envoy Jean-Yves Le Drian continued his meetings with Lebanese politicians on Thursday, focusing on the necessity of maintaining calm in the South, avoiding sliding into a wide war, and extending the tenure of the Lebanese Army commander.
Local media said that the Lebanese Army talks led to a clash between the French diplomat and the head of the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) MP Gebran Bassil.
According to informed sources, Le Drian emphasized the need to avoid vacuum in the position of army command, proposing an extension of the term of General Joseph Aoun. The majority of the political blocs favor this option, with the exception of the FPM, which is pushing for the appointment of a new commander.
This conflict with the FPM contributed to tension with Bassil, as the meeting between the two officials did not last more than 10 minutes.
Local channel LBC reported that Le Drian’s meeting with Bassil “ended in a dispute over the extension of the army commander’s term,” and that the FPM leader “rejected French intervention in this matter, being an internal issue.”
Meanwhile, Le Drian stressed the need to avoid such vacuum, especially under the current regional developments.
The French envoy started his tour on Thursday by meeting with the head of the Hezbollah parliamentary bloc, MP Mohammad Raad, in Beirut’s southern suburbs. Discussions touched on the presidential issue, the border developments, and the army commander’s tenure extension. He then met with Bassil, and left without making any statement.
Le Drian also held a lengthy meeting with the head of the Kataeb Party, MP Sami Gemayel, which the latter described as positive, pointing to a qualitative development in the French position.
Gemayel expressed concerns over Lebanon’s security, saying: “We are in a state of war, and we need a comprehensive national military institution that can protect Lebanon, and is capable of playing an important role in implementing Resolution 1701 and establishing Lebanon’s sovereignty over all its lands, and for this military institution to be strong and stable...”
The French envoy also met with MPs Michel Mouawad, Fouad Makhzoumi, Marc Daou, Michel Douaihy and Waddah Al-Sadiq, and members of the National Moderation bloc.
On Thursday evening, Le Drian hosted a dinner at the headquarters of the French Embassy in Beirut, attended by ambassadors of the member states of the Group of Five for Lebanon, which includes the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Qatar, the United States, and France, to brief them on the discussions he had in Lebanon.