Lebanon News

All eyes on Paris meet aimed to tackle Lebanon crisis

Lebanese anti-government protesters burn tires to block a road in the town of Mina in the northern port city of Tripoli. AFP / Fathi AL-MASRI

BEIRUT: All eyes are on Wednesday’s meeting in Paris, which will gather an international support group to tackle the situation in Lebanon at a time when the country is facing worsening economic conditions and a political stalemate. The one-day conference aims to push Lebanon to form a new government and is co-chaired by France and the United Nations.

French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian Tuesday urged Lebanon to form a new government swiftly or risk a deteriorating financial crisis, which would furtther threaten the country’s stability.

“[They should] form a government quickly because any delay will continue to worsen the situation,” Le Drian was quoted as saying by Reuters.

According to the draft of a concluding statement from the conference, published by local radio station Voice of Lebanon (93.3), the participating countries will stress that maintaining Lebanon’s stability will require a quick government formation.

In light of the difficult economic situation and the liquidity issue facing the country, the attendees are also expected to push Lebanon to adopt a series of reforms that would restore financial stability, fix longstanding issues in the Lebanese economic system and combat corruption.

Last year, France hosted the CEDRE conference, at which donors pledged over $11 billion in grants and soft loans to boost Lebanon's flagging economy and finance key infrastructure projects.

The ISGL brings together the United Nations, the governments of China, France, Germany, Italy, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States, along with the European Union and the Arab League.

Lebanon’s delegation to the conference headed to France Tuesday. According to a source close to the delegation, it includes Foreign Ministry Director General Hani Chemaitelly, Finance Ministry Director-General Alain Bifani, Hazar Caracalla, an economic adviser to caretaker Prime Minister Saad Hariri, and Central Bank representative Raja Abou Asli.

The source said he expects the conference to be “a declaration of good intentions with recommendations.”

Local media also reported that the first session of the conference would be closed and would not include the Lebanese delegation, which will join the attendees in the second session to present their take on the situation.

U.S. Assistant State Secretary for Near Eastern Affairs David Schenker is also expected to attend the conference, which comes after weeks of nationwide protests against the ruling political class. The uprising led to Hariri’s resignation on Oct. 29, and brought down with him the entire government.

According to television channel Al Hurra, Schenker will stress the need to facilitate the formation of a government “capable of implementing economic reforms and ending corruption.” Earlier Tuesday, U.N. Special Coordinator for Lebanon Jan Kubis met with Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, who informed Kubis that the draft 2020 state budget was in the process of being finalized before being referred to the General Assembly for endorsement.

The draft budget is currently being discussed by Parliament’s Finance and Budget committee.

Kubis, according to a statement from Berri’s office, said he would inform the attendees in Paris about these developments. Endorsing a well-balanced and trusted budget will reportedly be one of the main requests at the conference.

Hariri Tuesday evening met at his Downtown Beirut residence with caretaker Interior Minister Raya El Hassan and caretaker Finance Minister Ali Hassan Khalil, alongside the caretaker prime minister’s economic adviser Nadim Munla.

Discussions focused on the financial and economic situation and the 2020 draft state budget, according to a statement from Hariri’s office.

Munla told Reuters Tuesday that Lebanon does not expect new aid pledges at Wednesday’s conference.

He said the Paris meeting would probably signal a readiness to offer support once a government  that commits to reform is formed.

“They will recognize that there is a short-term problem and that if and when a government [is formed] that basically responds to the aspirations of the people, most probably the international community will be ready to step in and provide support to Lebanon, or additional support,” he said.

“It is not a pledging conference,” he said.

Meanwhile, the Future Movement’s parliamentary bloc commented on President Michel Aoun's decision to postpone parliamentary consultationsuntil Monday, hoping that doing so would lead to a breakthrough in naming a new prime minister.

“[The bloc] hopes that the postponement of these consultations would contribute a serious and final chance in order to reach a solution,” the bloc said in a statement after the meeting, which was headed by MP Bahia Hariri.

The bloc said the parliamentary consultations should be finalized in order to name a new prime minister who would directly “form a government of experts that would gain domestic and international trust, in order to confront worsening economic and financial problems.”

The binding parliamentary elections to designate a new prime minister were slated for Monday, but were postponed until next week after Samir Khatib withdrew his candidacy.

Khatib, who in the past few weeks had been seen as a favored candidate for the premiership, announced his withdrawal Sunday.

With Khatib’s decision, Hariri re-emerged as the favorite candidate to form a government.

Khatib added that the decision to pull out of the race had been his own.

The Future bloc also implicitly reiterated that Hariri would only head a technocratic government.

Hariri’s position was relayed by a close source who told Mustaqbal Web Tuesday, “Hariri’s only suggestion was a technocratic government that would satisfy the Lebanese people’s ambitions and convince the international community to provide urgent support [for Lebanon] to face the crisis.”

“If there is someone insisting on a politico-technocratic government, they are invited to form a government without Hariri as soon [as possible], and with the conditions they see fit for the Lebanese people and that would solve the situation,” the source said.

Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister said Tuesday that stability in Lebanon was “very, very important” to Riyadh.

Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud said he would not “prejudge” the Paris conference. “I’ll wait for the results of the conference,” he said.

The Lebanese people and the political system need to find a way forward that guarantees the nation's stability and sovereignty, he told a news conference following a Gulf Arab summit in Riyadh in response to a question regarding aid to Lebanon.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on December 11, 2019, on page 1.




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