French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian met Lebanese leaders on Thursday to try to break the deadlock in months of talks on forming a government to pull Lebanon out of economic crisis.
Le Drian met President Michel Aoun and influential Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri. Both are allies of Hezbollah, which is backed by Iran and is a close ally of Syria.
He has also asked to meet Gebran Bassil, the head of Lebanon’s biggest Christian parliamentary bloc and Aoun’s son-in-law, who was hit with US sanctions last year for alleged corruption and his ties to Hezbollah.
Officials had declined to confirm a meeting with Saad al-Hariri, a three-time premier who was designated to form a new government in October but has been locked in a stand-off with Aoun over the line-up, according to Reuters.
Two diplomats said Le Drian wanted to send a clear message that Paris supports the Lebanese people, but that it had had enough of the political class that had failed to meet its commitments.
"He came to Beirut to give Lebanese officials a strongly worded message, to tell them 'Lebanon is sinking and you are the ones sinking it even more...And if you don't help yourselves, nobody can help you'," a senior Lebanese political source said.
Paris said last month it was taking measures to restrict entry to France for Lebanese officials accused of blocking efforts to resolve the crisis, which has crashed the currency, paralyzed the banking sector and increased poverty.
Before flying to Beirut, Le Drian warned of punitive measures against those who were hindering progress.
“It is only the beginning,” he tweeted.