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Lebanon: French Initiative Under Political Lockdown

Lebanon: French Initiative Under Political Lockdown

Sunday, 17 January, 2021 - 12:00
French President Emmanuel Macron and Lebanon’s President Michel Aoun wear face masks as they arrives to attend a meeting at the presidential palace in Baabda, Lebanon September 1, 2020. REUTERS/Gonzalo Fuentes/Pool/File Photo

The French initiative in support of Lebanon seems to be heading towards a political lockdown unless President Emmanuel Macron manages to resolve the external obstacles hindering the formation of a new government.

However, this will not be achieved - at least in the foreseeable future - before the features of US President Joe Biden’s policy in the Middle East and Iran crystallize.

Macron’s initiative to rescue Lebanon set off from the disaster that befell Beirut as a result of the port explosion. The Lebanese people rushed to welcome the French president as he was inspecting the affected neighborhoods in the capital, amid a remarkable absence of state officials.

But Macron tried to use the popular reactions to put pressure on the traditional political forces, without turning towards major international and regional stakeholders to secure a political safety net that would fortify his initiative.

In this context, a political source told Asharq al-Awsat that Macron sought hard to save Lebanon, not only out of the distinguished relationship binding the latter to France, but also because he was deeply affected by the tragic scenes that he personally witnessed in the devastated Lebanese capital.

But the French president - according to the sources - was surprised while urging the political forces to form a strong government, by the American sanctions that targeted successively the head of the Free Patriotic Movement, MP Gebran Bassil, and former ministers Ali Hassan Khalil, Ghazi Zaiter and Youssef Fenianos, which hindered the cabinet’s formation.

He was also surprised that Tehran did not respond to his initiative, although he sought, through his work team, to persuade it to facilitate the government formation process. The sources said that Iran was not ready to ease his mission, because it preferred to use the Lebanese file as a card during its negotiations with the new US administration.

The political sources noted that Macron’s team made a mistake by not using a set of pressure papers that it could employ to soften Hezbollah’s position, and through it Tehran.

“Was the French president compelled to exclude pending political files from his initiative, specifically with regards to Lebanon’s defense strategy…?” The sources asked.

According to the sources, Macron made a mistake in negotiating with Hezbollah through his envoy to Beirut, Patrick Durel, who received reassurances from the party about facilitating the birth of the government but without asking it to pressure Aoun and Bassil for this purpose.

They inquired: “Why didn’t Hezbollah intervene to allow the success of the French initiative in a sign of gratitude to Paris, which is almost the only European capital that still distinguishes between the movement’s civil and military wings?”

Therefore, France’s inability to market its initiative lied in the fact that it assigned a team of amateurs to keep abreast of the ongoing contacts, specifically between Aoun and Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri, without this team directly interfering in the disputes still delaying the government formation.

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