BEIRUT (AP) – Seeking to stabilize Lebanon after a series of crises, France and the United States on Friday called on Lebanese politicians to urgently form a cabinet and scheduled an international conference to support the effort.
“All parties concerned must work urgently to put in place a government capable of implementing reforms immediately,” tweeted US Secretary of State Antony Blinken.
The announcements came at a time of great uncertainty following the resignation of Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri over disagreements with the president over the form of the cabinet. He did not name anyone to fill the post. Hundreds of his supporters revolted in the streets, blocked major highways and threw stones. On Friday morning, the Lebanese pound hit new lows reaching 23,400 per dollar on the black market.
President Michel Aoun was to call for consultations with the heads of parliamentary blocs. The person who gets the most support will be invited to work on the formation of a new Cabinet.
In the United States, the Biden administration has expressed disappointment that Lebanese political leaders have squandered the past nine months since Hariri’s appointment.
France, once the colonial ruler of Lebanon, has urged Lebanese political leaders to quickly form a government whose job will be to implement much-needed reforms and tackle the corruption that has brought Lebanon to the brink of bankruptcy.
France’s foreign ministry said the latest developments confirm the political stalemate 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 there is now “an absolute urgency to get out of this organized and unacceptable obstruction.” He added that France, with the support of the United Nations, is convening an international conference on August 4.
This date marks the first anniversary of a massive explosion in the port of Beirut that left more than 200 dead, more than 6,000 injured and damaged entire districts of the capital. The explosion was caused by the ignition of hundreds of tons of ammonium nitrate, a highly explosive fertilizer that had been stored there for years to the knowledge of senior government officials.
Lebanon has been without a full government since the office of Prime Minister Hassan Diab resigned a few days after the explosion.
Since the explosion, French President Emmanuel Macron has 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 would soon start imposing sanctions on politicians blocking the formation of a government.
France hosted an economic conference for Lebanon in April 2018 that pledged multi-billion dollar investments and loans in return for reforms. The funds were never released as politicians blamed for decades of corruption and mismanagement continued as if nothing had happened.
Associated Press editor Angela Charlton contributed to this report from Paris.