French President Emmanuel Macron has given Lebanese politicians three months to take concrete steps to rebuild the country, or face sanctions and lose out on crucial aid.
Macron has been central to international efforts to help Lebanon recover from a deep-rooted economic and political crisis arising from decades of mismanagement and corruption, a persistent pandemic, and a deadly explosion in capital city Beirut last month.
"It’s a risky bet I’m making, I am aware of it,” Macron told Politico in an interview Monday night. “I am putting the only thing I have on the table: my political capital."
Macron was in the Middle Eastern country, a former French protectorate, for the second time since the August 4 blast that destroyed much of its main port, a lifeline for a country heavily reliant on food imports.
Macron told Politico the next three months are “fundamental” to the process of making real change and forming a government in Lebanon. He said he wanted Lebanese political party leaders to make credible commitments to that end, including a concrete schedule for introducing changes and a parliamentary election within “six to 12 months.”
Macron said he would make “demanding” follow-ups on Lebanese political leaders. If the responses were found lacking, he threatened sanctions on the country’s ruling class, and said he would withhold critical aid, pledged at a 2018 donor conference in Paris, until donors are satisfied.
Lebanese politicians hastily agreed Monday on a new prime minister, Mustapha Adib, hours before Macron’s arrival, but after weeks of French pressure. The country's previous government resigned in the aftermath of the Beirut explosion.
Macron said he was not personally involved in decision-making and was instead pushing for change by visiting Lebanon often and threatening to impose sanctions or withhold aid.
"I don’t know him, I didn’t choose him, and it’s not my job to interfere or approve," said Macron about Adib, Lebanon’s ambassador to Germany since 2013, who called for immediate reforms.
"It's time for work to dovetail efforts and join hands, to restore hope among the Lebanese," Adib told reporters Monday, according to Al Jazeera. "By the grace of God Almighty, we hope we will be successful in selecting professionals with proven expertise and efficiency to implement the necessary financial and economic reforms."
Macron told reporters Monday he would host an international conference in mid-October on helping Lebanon, Reuters reported.
Macron also called Tuesday while in Beirut for an audit of the Lebanese banking system.
“Today everything is blocked, and Lebanon can no longer finance itself, so there needs to be an audit,” he said. “There is likely money that has been diverted. So, we need to know the truth of the numbers and then that judicial actions are taken.”
Lebanon contracted New York-based company Alvarez & Marsal in July to conduct a forensic audit of the central bank's accounts. The country also contracted two other companies, KPMG and Oliver Wyman, for traditional audits.
Macron said he would work with Lebanon’s leaders to “create the necessary conditions for reconstruction and stability,” in an Arabic-language tweet Monday.