Lebanon stability important to Saudi Arabia

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Aden - Yasmin Abdel Azim - Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan attends the first plenary session of the G20 foreign ministers' meeting in Nagoya, Aichi prefecture on November 23, 2019 Image Credit: AFP

Riyadh/Paris: Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister said stability in Lebanon, which has been rocked by more than a month of protests that forced the prime minister to resign, was “very, very important” to the kingdom.

Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud said he would not “pre-judge” a conference planned this week in Paris to support Lebanon, which is facing its worst economic crisis since the 1975-90 civil war.

“I’ll wait for the results of the conference.”

The Lebanese people and the political system need to find a way forward that guarantees its stability and sovereignty, he told a news conference following a Gulf Arab summit in Riyadh in response to a question regarding aid to Lebanon.

Meanwhile, Lebanon does not expect new aid pledges at conference which France is hosting on Wednesday to press for the quick formation of a new government that can tackle an acute financial crisis.

Call for swift government formation

French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian urged Lebanon to create a new government swiftly or risk the crisis worsening and threatening the country’s stability.

The economic crisis is the worst since the 1975-90 civil war: a liquidity crunch has led banks to enforce capital controls and the Lebanese pound to slump by one third.

Lebanon has also been in a political impasse since Saad al-Hariri quit as prime minister on Oct. 29, prompted by protests against the ruling elite, with no agreement on a new government.

Nadim Munla, senior adviser to Hariri, who is running the government as caretaker, told Reuters the Paris meeting would probably signal a readiness to offer support once a government is formed that commits to reforms.

“They will recognise that there is a short-term problem and that if and when a government (is formed) that basically responds to the aspirations of people, most probably the international community will be ready to step in and provide support to Lebanon, or additional support,” he said.

“It is not a pledging conference.”

Aid conditional on reforms

Lebanon won pledges of over $11 billion at a conference last year conditional on reforms that it has failed to implement.

The economic crisis is rooted in years of corruption and waste that have generated one of the world’s heaviest public debt burdens.

The political impasse returned to square one on Sunday when a tentative agreement on a new prime minister unravelled.

Hariri is now seen as the only candidate for the post.

He has said he would only lead a cabinet of specialist ministers, believing this is the way to address the economic crisis, attract aid, and satisfy protesters who have been in the streets since Oct. 17 seeking the removal of a political class blamed for corruption and misrule.

But Hezbollah and its allies including President Michel Aoun say the government must include politicians.

“Let’s see the coming few days and if there will be an agreement among the political parties on a formation ...

otherwise we might take longer,” Munla said.

Hariri would be willing to have politicians in cabinet but they should not be “the regular known faces of previous governments”.

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