French President Emmanuel Macron said the leaders of Lebanon pledged Tuesday to form a “crisis cabinet” within the next two weeks to push forward with key reforms. Macron arrived Monday for a two-day visit in Beirut, his second to the country in as many months.
“What I have asked for, what all political parties without exception have committed to this evening right here, is that the formation of this government will not take more than 15 days,” Macron said in a speech. He said the cabinet would be comprised of “competent personalities” and would be an “independent” entity with the backing of political parties.
Speaking at a news conference following talks with the heads of the country’s parliamentary blocs, Macron said that Hezbollah is “probably in parliament because of intimidation but also because other forces have failed to run the country well,” AFP reported.
“But it has a popular base, and that is the reality,” he pointed out. Nevertheless, he added, “with Hezbollah there is a discussion that needs to be initiated” regarding disarmament. “This is exactly the discussion we had an hour ago; it should not be a taboo,” he said.
Macron met Tuesday evening with representatives of the country’s top nine political blocs for the second time since the massive explosion in Beirut that killed 190 and left more than 300,000 homeless.
Following the general all-party meeting, Macron held separate, closed-door talks with each of the political leaders present, at the Pine Residence in Beirut, according to Naharnet. The talks were preceded by a meeting with President Michel Aoun and Speaker Nabih Berri.
Lebanon’s newly-selected Prime Minister, Mustapha Adib, “can only obtain legitimacy by quickly forming a mission government made up of professionals, the strongest possible team,” Macron said in his speech.
The French leader said he will return to Lebanon in December, Aoun’s office told AFP.
On Tuesday he said he was ready to organize an international aid conference for Lebanon next month – the second such effort he would lead since the August 4 Beirut blast – if it takes place. Speaking to the French news outlet Brut, Macron said he would follow up on the progress made by Lebanon’s leaders towards enacting reform “in October and then in December.
“I will personally commit myself to it,” Macron said, but added he would block aid money pledged by donors for Lebanon if those changes are not made. International donors had initially pledged some $300 million in emergency aid on August 9 during a video conference organized by France and the United Nations.
The United Nations warned on Sunday that more than half of Lebanon’s population is facing a real risk of hunger by the end of this calendar year.
The country was already grappling with its worst economic crisis since the 1975-1990 civil war when a warehouse filled with thousands of tons of ammonium nitrate exploded at the Port of Beirut, causing up to $4.6 billion worth of damage, and a blow to economic activity of up to $3.5 billion, according to an estimate by the World Bank.