French President Macron has pressured Lebanese leaders to agree on a new prime minister and has threatened sanctions on politicians if they do not push through with reforms.
France's intelligence chief has joined efforts to push Lebanon to deliver a new government and reforms, buttressing President Emmanuel Macron's bid to pull the country out of a devastating economic crisis.
Macron is centre stage in international efforts to press fractious Lebanese politicians to address a crisis seen as the biggest threat to Lebanon's stability since the 1975-1990 civil war.
The crisis, caused by decades of corruption and mismanagement, was compounded by a huge August 4 Beirut port blast that killed more than 190 people and ruined a swathe of the capital.
During his visit to Lebanon on Tuesday, Macron gave Lebanese politicians until the end of October to start delivering reform, warning they could face sanctions if corruption gets in the way.
Bernard Emie, director-general of France’s external intelligence service, the Direction Generale de la Securite Exterieure (DGSE), has been in contact with Lebanese officials on the issues discussed during Macron's visit, three Lebanese officials said.
Asked whether Emie was playing a role, the French presidency said, "The president does the follow-up and everyone within the state does its job. The (foreign) minister will make calls."
🇱🇧🇫🇷🇮🇷#France’s President #Macron lashes out at a French #journalist who uncovered his secret meeting with a leader of the T.O. #Hezbollah in #Lebanon.— Dr. Ali Bakeer (@AliBakeer) September 2, 2020
Macron accuses the journalists of being unprofessional and irresponsible for uncovering the meeting.pic.twitter.com/CzIVePiKo0
Emie, the French ambassador to Lebanon from 2004 to 2007, was appointed DGSE head shortly after Macron took office in 2017.
"He is following all the files that Macron presented in his last visit and with this purpose is in touch with many Lebanese officials across the political spectrum," a senior Lebanese official said.
"He is urging them to accelerate the implementation of reforms."
Emie was appointed ambassador to Lebanon after serving as an adviser to French President Jacques Chirac. He was in the post when Lebanon's Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, a close friend of Chirac, was assassinated in 2005.
Diplomats say he played a key role in efforts to push Syrian troops out of Lebanon. Syrian forces entered Lebanon during its civil war and remained afterwards.
Emie is among several French officials following up with Lebanese factions.
Others include Emmanuel Bonne, Macron's chief diplomatic adviser and another former envoy to Beirut, the sources said.
Pressure from Macron pushed Lebanese leaders to agree on a new prime minister, Mustapha Adib, who has started talks to form a cabinet of specialist ministers.
Different policy towards Hezbollah
While France, Lebanon's former colonial power, is at the forefront of diplomacy, other countries also have influence, including Iran through its support for the heavily armed Shia group Hezbollah.
The United States, which lists Hezbollah as a terrorist group, is also a major donor, including to the Lebanese army.
Senior US official David Schenker, on a visit to Beirut, told an Nahar newspaper the United States appreciated the French effort but there were "slight differences" with Paris.
Schenker said Washington did not believe Hezbollah was a legitimate political organisation and was not "inclined to reform." Macron described the group as an elected part of the political system.
Macron berates reporter
French President Emmanuel Macron lashed out at a journalist following a news conference in Beirut, Lebanon on Tuesday evening for exposing an unannounced meeting by the leader with Hezbollah in a recent article.
French journalist Georges Malbrunot wrote a piece published in Le Figaro on Monday which reported Macron having threatened to impose sanctions against leaders of the militant faction who may be resistant to the necessary reforms that France seeks.
The president's rebuke came during his official two-day visit to Beirut to discuss reforms and the necessary reinvention of the country in the wake of the August 4 deadly chemical explosions in the capital city.