French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian in a visit to Lebanon threatened unspecified measures against officials obstructing the formation of a government in the crisis-hit country.
French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian has met Lebanese leaders to try to break the deadlock in months of talks on forming a government to pull Lebanon out of economic crisis.
The country is experiencing the worst economic and financial crisis of its modern history. The local currency has lost 85 percent of its value against the dollar in recent months while banks imposed informal controls on transfers and withdrawals.
Le Drian began the visit on Thursday with a message of “great firmness” to its political leaders, threatening to take additional measures against officials obstructing the formation of a government in the crisis-hit country.
Paris said last month it was taking measures to restrict entry to France for Lebanese officials accused of blocking efforts to resolve the crisis, which has crashed the currency, paralysed the banking sector and increased poverty.
Tweeting ahead of his arrival, Le Drian said French travel restrictions on Lebanese officials suspected of corruption or hindering the formation of a new Cabinet were “just the start.”
Le Drian met President Michel Aoun and influential Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri. Both are allies of the Shia Muslim group Hezbollah, which is backed by Iran and is a close ally of Syria.
There has been no official announcement of what steps France has taken, or against whom, and the potential impact is unclear as some Lebanese politicians hold dual nationality.
France has led efforts to rescue its former colony from further economic downfall but after eight months has failed to persuade squabbling politicians to adopt a reform road map or form a new government to unlock international aid.
The economic crisis was made worse by a massive explosion at Beirut’s port last summer, which destroyed the facility and surrounding neighborhoods. The government of Prime Minister Hassan Diab stepped down in the wake of the explosion, and former premier Saad Hariri was tasked with forming a new one.
Le Drian has also asked to meet Gebran Bassil, the head of Lebanon's biggest Christian parliamentary bloc and Aoun's son-in-law, who was hit with US sanctions last year for alleged corruption and his ties to Hezbollah.
Officials had declined to confirm a meeting with Hariri, a three-time premier who was designated to form a new government in October but has been locked in a stand-off with Aoun over the line-up.
Lebanon on Tuesday resumed US-mediated talks with Israel on a dispute about their Mediterranean Sea border which has held up hydrocarbon exploration in the potentially gas-rich area.
Resolving the border issue could pave the way for lucrative oil and gas deals on both sides.