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Macron Continues his Mediation on Lebanon

Macron Continues his Mediation on Lebanon

Tuesday, 21 November, 2017 - 08:30
French President Emmanuel Macron receives resigned Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri at the Elysee Palace on November 18. (AFP)

In the three days that he spent in France after arriving from Saudi Arabia, resigned Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri did not reveal any details of his political intentions or the course he will take once he returns to Beirut. He sufficed with general posts on his personal Twitter account, none of which shed light on his future moves, except that he will be paying a visit to Egypt to hold talks with President Abdul Fattah al-Sisi before returning to Lebanon.

The lack of public statements does not mean that Hariri did not carry out a series of contacts and consultations with his close aides or Lebanese and Arab officials in preparation for his meeting with President Michel Aoun. He is scheduled to meet him at the Baabda presidential palace to tender his resignation. Hariri stated that he will be present in Beirut to attend his country’s Independence Day celebrations on Wednesday. Attention will be turned to the Aoun-Hariri meeting to determine whether the PM will back down from the conditions he set over his return to Beirut.

Meanwhile, French diplomacy, represented by President Emmanuel Macron and Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, has continued its wide Arab, regional and international consultations over Lebanon. Hariri had held talks with Macron on Saturday.

Paris had struck a clear diplomatic victory when it provided the conditions for Hariri’s arrival in France at Macron’s invitation. Official sources said that the French president “is continuing with his essential contacts in order to ease the tensions in the region and find a solution to the severe political crisis in Lebanon.”

To that end, Macron held talks with US President Donald Trump, Sisi, United Nation Secretary General Antonio Guterres, Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Elysee Palace sources said that the French leader tackled with these officials the general situation in the Middle East and the necessary means to provide stability and build peace. He stressed that he will continue contacts with other world leaders in the coming days.

French sources said that Paris is seeking to achieve two goals: Providing political and security stability in Lebanon and its surroundings and finding means to ensure the continued operation of its institutions.

In other words, it is seeking a way out of the crisis that erupted with Hariri’s resignation on November 4 and providing the conditions for “new political consensus” that keeps Lebanon away from instability and any form of institutional vacuum.

The French sources refused to go into details, saying that a middle ground should be found between what Hariri is demanding in return for withdrawing his resignation and what the other side, meaning “Hezbollah” and its allies, are willing to offer. They admitted that so far, the situation appears “very difficult” due to the rising tensions in the region over Iran’s destabilizing role and the recent Arab League statement that directly criticized “Hezbollah.”

Political circles in Paris noted that despite the “strong push” that his resignation gave him, Hariri will soon find himself in a “difficult political situation where it will be impossible to form a government with ‘Hezbollah’” members.” The party was deemed by Sunday’s Arab League Foreign Ministers as a “terrorist” organization, holding its responsible for backing terror groups in the Arab world. Lebanon’s representative at the Arab League had rejected the articles in the statement that targeted “Hezbollah” and its backer Iran.

The French efforts have also found themselves in a tight spot in wake of the renewed tensions between Paris and Tehran. France recently issued a strongly-worded criticism of Iran’s ballistic missile program and its aggressive regional policy. The tensions were exacerbated after a telephone call on Sunday between Macron and Trump during which they agreed to “work with their allies in order to confront Iran’s destabilizing actions in the region.” This American support will increase tensions with Tehran, which will most likely soon accuse France of working with Washington against it. Iran had accused Paris of “bias” and “pouring fuel on the fire” in wake of Le Drian’s comments from Riyadh that Tehran was adopting an expansionist policy in the region. Macron also demanded that Iran commit to a “less aggressive” policy.

Lack of statements on Macron’s visit to Iran “at the beginning of next” year are another sign of the mounting tensions between Tehran and Paris. In addition, Le Drian’s scheduled trip to Iran at the end of November was also postponed to December, but a specific date was not given for it. Despite these tensions, Paris still asserts that it is seeking calm and wants to hold dialogue with all sides.

France therefore finds itself in the middle of a very complicated political and diplomatic game.

The challenges of the “new phase” will begin with Hariri tendering his resignation to Aoun and it it will test whether Macron will be able to bring together various opposing sides concerned in the Lebanese crisis.

French reports say that Macron is seeking to “fortify” Lebanon and prevent its transformation into an open ground for settling scores. This is why he sought to “test” a number of ideas, starting with determining the extent in which Lebanon can commit to its policy of disassociation from regional conflicts and whether it can persuade “Hezbollah” to return to Lebanon and abandon its disruptive regional acts. This last point was the main reason that pushed Hariri to resign and it was at the heart of the latest telephone discussions between Macron and Aoun.

France has some cards in its hand, such as calling the International Support Group for Lebanon to convene on the ministerial level, revealed Elysee Palace sources on Saturday. Paris has not yet determined its future steps and it is still awaiting the developments in Lebanon over the next two days before making any move.

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