Betrayed Macron Says Will Continue Lebanon Efforts, Eyes Hezbollah

FILE PHOTO: French President Emmanuel Macron and Lebanon's President Michel Aoun wear protective face masks as they meet following Tuesday's blast in Beirut's port area, at the presidential palace in Baabda, Lebanon August 6, 2020. REUTERS/Mohamed Azakir

By John Irish and Matthias Blamont

PARIS, Sept 27 (Reuters) – French President Emmanuel Macron admonished Lebanon’s leaders on Sunday for serving their own interests ahead of their country and vowed to push ahead with efforts to prevent chaos, but appeared to have no back up plan should his initiative fail.

Lebanon’s prime minister-designate, Mustapha Adib, quit on Saturday after failing to line up a non-partisan cabinet, dealing a blow to a French plan aimed at rallying sectarian leaders to tackle the country’s crisis.

“I am ashamed of Lebanon’s political leaders,” Macron told a news conference in Paris. “The leaders did not want, clearly and resolutely, to respect the commitments made to France and the international community. They decided to betray this commitment.”

For the first time, Macron also specifically questioned the role of the heavily armed Hezbollah and the influence of Iran, saying that the group needed to lift its ambiguity on the political arena.

Adib was picked on Aug. 31 to form a cabinet after Macron’s intervention secured a consensus on naming him in a country where power is shared out between Muslims and Christians.

Under the French roadmap, the new government would take steps to tackle corruption and implement reforms needed to trigger billions of dollars of international aid to fix an economy crushed by a huge debt.

But there was deadlock over a demand by Lebanon’s two main Shi’ite groups, Amal and Hezbollah, that they name several ministers, including for finance, who will have a big role in drawing up economic rescue plans.

Macron, who also took a swipe at leading Sunni Muslim politician Saad al-Hariri, criticised both parties for blocking efforts to form a government by a mid-September deadline.

“Hezbollah can’t be at the same time an army at war with Israel, an unrestrained militia against civilians in Syria and a respectable party in Lebanon,” Macron said, adding that he saw no evidence Tehran was interfering in his initiative.

“Is it really a political party or does it proceed just in a logic dictated by Iran, and its terrorist forces? I want us to see if in the next few weeks something is possible. I’m not naive.”

Macron said he would convene international partners within 20 days to assess where his efforts stood and hold an aid conference by the end of October.

Describing the events of the last few days as a betrayal, he said political leaders had chosen “to deliver Lebanon to the game of foreign powers”, destabilising the region further.

He warned them that they had 4-6 weeks to play ball. When asked whether sanctions were on the table, he said he would only consider them at a later stage in conjunction with other powers because he could not see their use for now.

“This is a system of terror. This system is no longer advancing and a few dozen people are bringing down a country and its people,” Macron said. “The French initiative will persist. My commitment … will not falter.”

(Additional reporting by Raya Jalabi; writing by John Irish and Raya Jalabi; editing by Timothy Heritage and David Evans)

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