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US, French envoys in Saudi to discuss Lebanon political solution

US Ambassador Dorothy Shea and her French counterpart Anne Grillo meet with Saudi officials in Riyadh on 8 July 2021 [usembassybeirut/Twitter]
US Ambassador Dorothy Shea and her French counterpart Anne Grillo meet with Saudi officials in Riyadh on 8 July 2021 [usembassybeirut/Twitter]

The American and French ambassadors to Lebanon conducted a rare visit to Saudi Arabia yesterday, in efforts to come up with a solution to the country's political and economic crises.

US Ambassador Dorothy Shea and her French counterpart Anne Grillo met with Saudi officials in Riyadh yesterday, in what many see as the kingdom's potential return to influencing Lebanon's political scene.

In a statement released by the French embassy prior to the visit, Grillo explained that she would urge "Lebanese officials to form an effective and credible government to work to achieve the essential reforms in Lebanon's interest in accordance with the aspirations of the Lebanese people."

Shea said she aimed to show the Saudi government the "gravity of the situation in Lebanon and emphasize the importance of humanitarian assistance to the Lebanese people, as well as increased support for the Lebanese Armed Forces and the Internal Security Forces."

Lebanon's cabinet resigned after a massive Beirut port blast in August last year and has been acting in a caretaker capacity since then, while the economic crisis in the heavily-indebted Arab country has deepened. The Lebanese pound has lost 90 per cent of its value against the dollar since the crisis erupted in 2019.

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Both the US and France have urged Lebanon to form a stable government, but obstacles have emerged consistently to any solution to the political crisis. France has been particularly strict in warning Lebanon to implement political reforms, sanctioning Lebanese figures in April which it claims are responsible for the deadlock.

Last month, it was found that Lebanese banks had consumed over $250 million of United Nations aid that was intended for refugees and poor communities.

The French and American ambassador's visit to Riyadh occurred on the same day as the Saudi Ambassador to Lebanon, Walid Bukhari, met with the country's Maronite Christian Patriarchate in an inclusive gathering. In that meeting, Bukhari also urged for a political solution and called on all parties "to prioritize Lebanon's national interest to confront the attempts of some to harm Lebanon's close relationship with its Arab depth."

Both meetings in Saudi Arabia and in Lebanon signal to many observers and analysts that the kingdom may be aiming to serve as a mediator in Lebanon's political disputes and as an investor in its economy.

Riyadh has not played such a significant role in Beirut's politics since the Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman was reported to have detained former Prime Minister Saad Hariri during a visit back in 2017. According to the UN, Hariri was also tortured and forced to announce his resignation.

A primary reason Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states have refrained from helping Lebanon's political and economic crises is reportedly due to the presence and influence of the Iran-backed movement Hezbollah in the Lebanese political scene, in which the group holds parliamentary seats and significant influence over the country's armed forces.

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