‘Help us help you’: French envoy’s plea to Lebanon

French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, wearing a mask to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus, arrives to meet Lebanese president Michel Aoun at the Presidential Palace in Baabda, east of Beirut, Lebanon, Thursday, July 23, 2020. (AP)
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Updated 24 July 2020

‘Help us help you’: French envoy’s plea to Lebanon

  • Foreign minister kicks off two-day visit with call for urgent reforms

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.

Brian Hook: Arms embargo to be extended one way or another

Updated 14 August 2020

Brian Hook: Arms embargo to be extended one way or another

  • The special representative for Iran asked members to respect the wishes of Middle East nations that “live in Iran’s dark shadow” and vote for the extension.

NEW YORK: The US has introduced a draft UN Security Council resolution to extend the Iran arms embargo on Iran which expires in October.

In a telephonic press briefing, Brian Hook, the special representative for Iran, said the resolution was “a clean rollover of the existing arms embargo” which was put in place in 2007.

“Letting the arms embargo expire was a big deficiency of the Iran nuclear deal. Its expiration should never have been based on an artificial timeline of five years. It was an irresponsible concession,” he said.

Hook called the new proposal “a compromise text” with the US adding provisions that had been supported by all permanent members of the council.

US Ambassador to the UN Kelly Craft called on all members to “wake up to the real world implications of allowing the arms embargo to lapse. The UNSC’s purpose is to promote global peace and security. Failure to extend the arms embargo would make a mockery of that responsibility.”

Hook asked members to respect the wishes of Middle East nations that “live in Iran’s dark shadow” and vote for the extension.

The diplomat read a quote from a letter by the six members of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), who came together to ask the council to extend the arms embargo.

“(Iran) has continued to proliferate weapons across the region as an integral part of its expansionist regional policy and longstanding interference in the internal affairs of Arab states, including GCC member states, in clear violation of the UN Charter. We have stressed that Iran has been a state sponsor of terrorism in our region and has actively incubated, trained, equipped, and directed violent armed terrorists throughout the region.”

Hook urged council members to respect the wishes of those closest to the conflict and vote for the extension:

“Abstaining may carry a certain appeal for those who want to have it both ways, to express concern without addressing the concern. But abstentions will not be forgotten by nations in the region who are counting on council members to vote yes.”

Hook resigned this week. Asked by Arab News what his successor, Elliott Abrams, would bring to the table, Hook said: “People are getting an upgrade. He has been working on the Middle East’s issues for decades. He will do a great job on this file.”

Abrams’s nomination had immediately triggered speculations that a “snapback activation” would follow.

Critics argue that since the US pulled out of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action on Iran, it is legally unable to trigger the snapback move, which faces opposition from Russia and China.

In answer to the claim, the US has circulated a legal memo explaining its rights under resolution 2231 to initiate the snapback.

“It’s important for people to define their terms. The Iran deal is a political arrangement consisting of non-binding political commitments,” Hook said. “So those who argue that a state cannot avail itself of legal rights if it is in violation of corresponding legal obligations don’t know how to read 2231.”

But Hook reiterated the administration’s present focus was on the arms embargo, and ensuring that it passes. “We certainly made the case on the merits for why it needs to be extended, and we’ll see how the council lines up. But … one way or the other, we are going to ensure that the arms embargo is extended,” he said.