US envoy joins calls for drastic reform in Lebanon

Special US envoy joins calls for drastic reform in Lebanon
US Assistant Secretary for Near Eastern Affairs David Schenker. (File/AFP)
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Updated 03 September 2020

US envoy joins calls for drastic reform in Lebanon

US envoy joins calls for drastic reform in Lebanon
  • Macron warning sparks talks to form crisis Cabinet

BEIRUT: US Assistant Secretary for Near Eastern Affairs David Schenker called on Lebanon’s leaders to implement drastic and wide-ranging reforms as he launched a two-day visit to the crisis-stricken country on Wednesday.

Schenker said that he wants to see reforms that “respond to the Lebanese people’s desire for transparency, accountability and a government free of corruption.”

Diplomatic sources told Arab News that Schenker’s program of meetings is “unusual and unexpected.”

The US official will meet civilian and business leaders for talks related to US aid after the Beirut port explosion on Aug. 4.

Schenker’s arrival follows French President Emmanuel Macron’s second visit to Lebanon during which he made any French bailout conditional on widespread reforms.

Macron gave Lebanese officials “15 days to form the government and eight weeks to implement the promises.”

In a press release, the French leader said: “If you honor your commitments, we will honor ours. Otherwise, there is no blank check and we will not be able to support Lebanon.”

He also said that if the new leadership failed to honor its commitments, “those hindering these efforts will be named.”

Macron managed to bring together rival party officials at the Residence des Pins, the French ambassador’s residence, for a meeting attended by Saad Hariri (Future Movement), Walid Jumblatt and his son Taymour Jumblatt (Progressive Socialist Party), Gebran Bassil (Free Patriotic Movement), Samir Geagea (Lebanese Forces), Mohammed Raad (Hezbollah), Samy Gemayel (Kataeb), Sulaiman Frangieh (Marada) and Ibrahim Azar (Nabih Berri bloc).

Mustapha Adib, Lebanon’s prime minister-designate, said on Wednesday he wants to swiftly form a government of specialists to implement urgent reforms that can regain the trust of the Lebanese and the international community.

Earlier the 48-year-old diplomat held talks with MPs over the formation of a new crisis Cabinet.

During the talks the Future Movement called for “the swift formation of a government of specialists,” while the Hezbollah bloc said it wanted to see a government that is “effective, productive and coherent, and understands the political reality.”

However, Berri’s bloc insisted on keeping the finance portfolio as a “fundamental matter” amid signs of a looming dispute over who will take over the Ministry of Finance.

The Progressive Socialist Party called for “a capable government that makes reforms first, starting with the French initiative which is the last chance.”

The Lebanese Forces’ bloc demanded a government that is “independent, made of specialists and committed to neutrality,” and also announced that the party will not be part of government.

Meanwhile, the Free Patriotic Movement called for “rotating ministries,” with a reassignment of portfolios allocated for other parties.

MP Osama Saad described the events as “the new look of an expired system.”

“The crises and collapses will not stop in Lebanon,” he said.

Following the talks, Adib said that “there is more common ground among the Lebanese than points of disagreement, which can be resolved by dialogue.”

After a meeting with the Maronite Patriarch Bechara Boutros Al-Rai on Wednesday, the Maronite patriarchs called for “a salvation government that does not have any party or political affiliation, with the necessary exceptional powers to be able to make reforms, combat corruption and achieve economic advancement.”

The patriarchs said that “Arab and international concern should be a building block for Lebanon’s salvation.”