BEIRUT — Seeking to stabilize Lebanon after a series of crises, France and the U.S. on Friday called on Lebanese politicians to urgently form a Cabinet and planned an international conference to support the effort.
“All concerned parties need to work with urgency to put in place a government that’s able to implement reforms immediately,” tweeted U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken.
The announcements came at a moment of great uncertainty after Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri stepped down over disagreements with the president on the shape of the Cabinet. He did not name anyone to take the post. Hundreds of his supporters rioted in the streets, blocked major roads and hurled stones. On Friday morning, Lebanon’s pound hit new lows reaching 23,400 to the dollar on the black market.
President Michel Aoun was expected to call for consultations with heads of parliamentary blocs. The person who gets the most support will be asked to work on forming a new Cabinet.
In the U.S., the Biden administration expressed disappointment that Lebanese political leaders have squandered the last nine months since Hariri was named.
France, once Lebanon’s colonial ruler, has been urging Lebanese political leaders to quickly form a government whose job will be to implemented badly needed reforms and fight corruption that has brought Lebanon to near bankruptcy.
France’s Foreign Affairs Ministry said the latest development confirms the political deadlock in which “Lebanese leaders have deliberately held the country back for months, even as it sinks into an unprecedented economic and social crisis.”
The ministry said that there is now “an absolute urgency to come out of this organized and unacceptable obstruction.” It added that France, with the support of the United Nations, was calling an international conference Aug. 4.
The date marks the first anniversary of a massive explosion at Beirut’s port that killed more than 200, wounded over 6,000 and damaged entire neighborhoods in the capital. The blast was caused by the ignition of hundreds of tons of ammonium nitrate, a highly explosive fertilizer that had been stored for years there with the knowledge of top government officials.
Lebanon has been without a full-functioning government since the Cabinet of Prime Minister Hassan Diab resigned days after the blast.
Since the blast, French President Emmanuel Macron visited Lebanon twice and urged Lebanese politicians to quickly form a Cabinet to implement reforms. Earlier this week, a French minister visiting Lebanon said Paris will soon begin imposing sanctions on politicians blocking the formation of a government.
France hosted an economic conference for Lebanon in April 2018 that promised investments and loans worth billions of dollars in return for reforms. The funds were never released as the political class blamed for decades of corruption and mismanagement continued with business as usual.
Associated Press writer Angela Charlton contributed to this report from Paris.