Al-Akhbar: Macron to Mikati .. “ready to interfere with the Gulf...

The first results of President Najib Mikati’s visit to Paris are necessary, if not sufficient, according to some of the exaggerated expectations that preceded them. He wasn’t expecting more than he came back with. The amount of his going there builds, he also came back builds. But the origin is the one who starts first

What President Najib Mikati heard in Paris on Friday was unequivocal: The Lebanese government, which he heads, must immediately initiate and program the structural reforms included in the IMF program. This meant that French President Emmanuel Macron paired his positive intentions with assistance and support, with obligatory conditions that Lebanon can only respond to, if it really wants to get itself out of the bottom, and is relying on the Paris rope to pull it out of the worst that this country has experienced.

Mikati heard from the French President basic demands and positions, including:

1- Commencement of negotiations with the International Monetary Fund with a unified official Lebanese delegation, bearing one point of view that does not repeat what the Fund had experienced in previous negotiations that it conducted in Lebanon, during the government of President Hassan Diab, when he found himself in front of a divided Lebanese delegation, attracted by two contradictory points of view. One of them represented the government and the other was the Banque du Liban, with which it was not possible to agree.

2- In a firm manner, the French President said that there is no aid to Lebanon, regardless of its size, level, and justifications for its need, unless its government and parliament institute real reforms in its economic and financial systems and start implementing them. Then, after being confirmed, the aid will arrive successively.

3 – Lebanon is still able to rely on loans that the World Bank provided to it in the past, but it did not insist on benefiting from them. According to Paris, the loan funds allocated to Lebanon are still available, which can be used at a later stage to launch the reform and see its results.

4 – The French set several priorities for initiating the reform program, namely electricity, especially the formation of the regulatory body, and the introduction of fundamental reforms in the banking sector as well as in money and state finance, not to mention the Banque du Liban. They also counted on the support of the Lebanese army and other military corps in order to protect their roles in the country.

5 – The French showed their interest in the reconstruction of the port of Beirut, especially in the part not related to the levies, as well as to electricity, provided that the World Bank would supervise the rehabilitation of electricity in the country.

6 – It seemed interesting that Paris stopped at the two Shiite ministers named by Hezbollah in the government, the Minister of Public Works Ali Hamiya and the Minister of Agriculture Abbas Hajj Hassan. He comforted her that they hold French citizenship, which allows for cooperation with them, especially since the French look with apprehension at Germany’s attempt to take over the reconstruction of the port, knowing that without this attempt there are difficult obstacles to overcome if it is necessary to take into account that Germany has included Hezbollah in the list of terrorist organizations. It is better that neither the party nor the minister it named, the Minister of Public Works in charge of the port, agree to grant such a task to her.

Unlike the Germans, the French maintained contact with Hezbollah, and intermittent dialogue through direct and indirect channels. The most prominent of his high-impact indicators, but not the last of them, is the presence of the party’s deputy and head of its bloc, Mohamed Raad, at Macron’s table at the Pine Palace on September 1, 2020. Add his, though brief, dialogue with him.

As for the significant political positions that Mikati touched or heard from the French president, there are three:

First, I invited him to an official working lunch at the Elysee on the fourth day of his government’s vote of confidence in Parliament. The French president’s interest in his guest doubled by limiting the talks to them and their special advisors, despite the negative reference to the absence of the two foreign ministers directly concerned with the bilateral relations that the two presidents dealt with, as well as the content of the talks themselves. Although the Paris meeting was the first move that Mikati took as prime minister outside the country before passing through Saudi Arabia and Egypt at best, the importance of the event is that it is the first official move towards a major country by a high-ranking Lebanese official since the Diab government, Lebanon seemed during the past period as if it was besieged from the west and east At the same time, interrupted and forbidden to communicate with him.

What was evident in the Paris talks and their implications, is that none of the countries of the West and the East are boycotting this country, which refuses to respond to what the international community is urging to help and rescue it from its stifling crisis, not to mention the waste of 13 months without a government and a procedural authority to talk or negotiate with the outside world. The French said that no one in the international community wants Lebanon to collapse. As for the addition, which complements the beginning of openness to the outside, which has been revealed in the past hours, is the visit of an American official to Beirut this week, Amos Hochstein, who had previously traveled between Lebanon and Israel to demarcate the maritime borders between the two countries before the indirect negotiations. It is an additional indication of a new approach to Lebanon under its new government, albeit with a file completely separate from the prime minister’s mission.

Second, the French President expressed his readiness to help discourage the Arab Gulf states from boycotting Lebanon and away from it, and to ask them to stand by him and support him. However, he excluded Saudi Arabia from this attempt. Such an exception, with the first Gulf state with a decisive influence on its neighbors, revealed once again the failure of the French, which continues to persuade Riyadh to reconsider its position on Lebanon, and open up to it once more. Paris had made strenuous efforts, which Macron undertook with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to end his double estrangement with the Lebanese state and then-President-designate Saad Hariri, but he did not receive a response due to his strictness in turning his back on Lebanon at the present time, and considering Hariri as a thing of the past.

Third, Paris warned about the difficult tasks awaiting the Mikati government. It is entrusted with responsibilities greater than the legal age set for it, and it ends with the holding of the general parliamentary elections in the spring of 2022. It estimates that half of the eight months of the government’s life will be consumed by the spring elections, which makes the time very tight for it to complete the many reforms it owes, and some of these depend on its results on a factor Time first and foremost. The French’s caution leads them further, fearing its failure.

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