BEIRUT: French Minister of Foreign Affairs Jean-Yves Le Drian began a two-day visit to Lebanon on Thursday with a call to “help us help you” amid the country’s worsening economic and financial crisis.
Wearing a face mask featuring the French and Lebanese national flags, Le Drian said: “France stands with Lebanon in these difficult circumstances, as it has always done throughout history.”
The minister, who arrived in Beirut late on Wednesday, called for reforms to help Lebanon tackle the problems plaguing the country’s economy.
“This is a message that I convey to all Lebanese authorities and political parties, for it is not only what France aims for but it is what the whole international community is seeking,” he said.
Le Drian, the first foreign official to visit Lebanon amid the COVID-19 pandemic, said France “insists on helping Lebanon and looks forward to implementing the much-needed reforms.”
He added: “The terms of the CEDRE conference are still standing and could be activated in parallel with the reforms the Lebanese government vowed to endorse in Paris.”
The 2018 conference, staged in Paris, attempted to find ways to boost the Lebanese economy.
The Lebanese government at the time, headed by Saad Hariri, the former prime minister, had presented a comprehensive investment and reform plan for Lebanon. Donor countries vowed to provide support based on special conditions and mechanisms, and promised $12 billion in financial aid.
According to the Presidential Palace Media Office, the French minister listened to a presentation by Lebanese President Michel Aoun on the “steps that were achieved in the field of fighting corruption, including approving forensic financial auditing of state finances.”
Aoun highlighted “difficulties and obstacles to fighting corruption, especially with numerous perpetrators who are exerting pressures to obstruct it.”
The Lebanese leader stressed that Lebanon “clings to UN Resolution 1701,” and thanked France for “the role that it is playing to renew the term of the UNIFIL in Lebanon.” He talked about the implications of COVID-19 and the impact of displaced Syrians on the Lebanese economy, which “cost Lebanon $40 billion, according to data provided by international organizations.”
The president said that “Lebanese-French relations are deeply rooted in history, which necessitates cooperation for the benefit of both friendly countries and peoples.”
Le Drian called for a relaunch of negotiations with the IMF, saying: “There is no other solution to get Lebanon out of its crisis and I carry the message for the Lebanese, help us to help you.”
The French minister’s tour included a visit to Prime Minister Hassan Diab and Speaker of the Parliament Nabih Berri.
Diab’s office issued a statement which said the Prime Minister told Le Drian that the government achieved many reforms and faced many obstacles, but was still able to set a timetable for the rest of the reforms. Diab said Lebanon needs France’s support with electricity and the International Monetary Fund (IMF). He added that the government will continue the reforms with transparency.
A meeting was also held in the Lebanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs with Foreign Minister Nassif Hitti and his team.
In a joint press conference, the French minister said: “Lebanon is facing a critical situation, and the economic crisis is great and has repercussions for the Lebanese, but France is determined to stand by the Lebanese people in these difficult circumstances. We want to prevent the crisis from affecting coexistence in Lebanon. Solutions for the crisis are available in the CEDRE conference resolutions, but needed reform should be implemented to get Lebanon out of its ordeal.”
Le Drian also toured Haret Hreik, a southern suburb of Beirut, where he visited the Amel Association International social center.
Amel President Dr. Kamel Mhanna told Arab News he was “personally keen that the French minister visits the region to talk to people in Amel who are Lebanese, Palestinian and Syrian.”
“Dozens of French ministers visit Amel when they come to Lebanon. We have partnerships with French associations in the fields of vocational education, health and food. We have centers all over Lebanon and through this direct meeting between the French minister and the people, away from the media, the minister will elaborate an idea about the situation that everybody is suffering from in this country,” Mhanna said.
Le Drian is the first French or European official to visit Lebanon following the rise of the civil protest movement on Oct. 17 last year.
The French minister later met Maronite Patriarch Bechara Al-Rahi in Bkerki, the supreme religious authority in the Maronite community.