France's Le Drian to head to Lebanon May 5-6 for crisis talks

by Reuters
Friday, 30 April 2021 15:50 GMT

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PARIS/BEIRUT, April 30 (Reuters) - French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian will travel to Lebanon next week to discuss the political crisis there with senior officials, two sources aware of the matter said on Friday.

The trip comes after Paris said it had started putting in place measures to restrict entry to France for some Lebanese officials on the grounds that they were blocking efforts to find a solution to Lebanon's political and economic crisis.

The two sources said Le Drian would travel on May 5 and hold meetings on May 6. He has requested meetings with President Michel Aoun and Shi'ite Hezbollah ally and Speaker of the Parliament Nabih Berri, according to a note sent by the embassy.

Le Drian has also asked to meet Gebran Bassil, the leader of Lebanon's biggest Christian political bloc and Aoun's son-in-law, who is under U.S. sanctions for alleged corruption and his ties to Hezbollah.

France has spearheaded international efforts to rescue Lebanon from its deepest crisis since the 1975-1990 civil war, but after eight months has failed so far to persuade squabbling politicians to adopt a reform roadmap or form a new government to unlock international aid.

France's foreign ministry did not confirm or deny Le Drian's planned trip.

With the European Union, Paris has been working on creating a sanctions regime for Lebanon that could ultimately see asset freezes and travel bans.

However, that is likely to take time. As part of efforts to raise pressure on key Lebanese actors, France intends to stop issuing visas to certain officials, diplomats have said.

Diplomatic sources have said that Bassil could be one of those targeted, although he has no specific ties to France. (Reporting by John Irish in Paris and Maha el-Dahan in Beirut; Editing by Alison Williams and Catherine Evans)

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