US, France Back New Govt. in Lebanon as Support Group Meets in Paris

Wednesday, 11 December, 2019 - 18:15
Asharq Al-Awsat

The United States expressed on Wednesday its readiness help Lebanon in resolving the worst economic crisis it has witnessed since its 1975-90 civil war.

Speaking in Washington on Wednesday, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told reporters that “the responsibility lies with the Lebanese people” to push for a new political order.

He said the Washington is ready to “do the things that the world can do to assist the Lebanese people getting their economy right and getting their government right.”

The International Support Group for Lebanon met behind closed doors in Paris on Wednesday to consider measures to help the country as it grapples with ongoing political turmoil and its economic woes.

The group, co-chaired by France and the United Nations, is weighing conditions for providing financial aid to Lebanon. Lebanese businesses and households are growing increasingly desperate as cash supplies there have dwindled.

French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said at a press conference ahead of the meeting in Paris that Lebanese authorities must “take into account the call of the street.”

He urged Lebanese authorities to “form a government rapidly because any delay will aggravate the situation.”

"In order to halt the sharp deterioration in the economy ... there is an urgent need for the adoption of a substantial, credible and comprehensive policy package of economic reforms to restore fiscal balance and financial stability," the ISG said in a final communique after the meeting.

The group urged the Lebanese authorities to adopt a "reliable 2020 budget" in the first weeks after the formation of a new government and fight more rigorously against corruption.

Meanwhile, dozens of protesters in Beirut and Paris rallied Wednesday to call on the leaders not to give financial assistance until a new government comes together.

“This authority ... no longer represents the Lebanese,” said a protester in Beirut reading a letter to be delivered to the French ambassador. Calling the current government corrupt, the protester said: “We don’t want (that aid) to go to waste.”

For two months, protests have decried government mismanagement and the current political system.

Prime Minister Saad Hariri resigned Oct. 29, but he has stayed on as caretaker prime minister since politicians have been unable to form a new government. Protesters want to see a non-sectarian, technocratic government — and they want all traces of the old regime, including Hariri, out of office.

Hariri has called on Saudi Arabia, France, Turkey, the United States, China, and Egypt to send funds to help Lebanon finance imports.

But international donors are unlikely to write a check without substantial commitments to reform. More than 50 countries pledged last year to give Lebanon $11 million in aid, conditioned on Hariri implementing long-stalled reforms. Promised reforms never materialized.

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