BEIRUT: As congratulations poured in from the international community over the long-awaited formation of Lebanon’s new government, the well-wishes were tempered by concern from some sides.
Prime Minister Saad Hariri will head the 30-member unity government, which took more than eight months to form, causing consternation among countries and international bodies that had pledged grants and soft loans to Lebanon at donor conferences last year. Over $11 billion was pledged to Lebanon at the CEDRE conference in Paris in April.
French President Emmanuel Macron signaled his country’s continued commitment to Lebanon as he joined other world leaders in welcoming the new government Friday.
“France has stood by the Lebanese people and officials in the past few months to facilitate the conditions of this formation, in the spirit of the partnership and friendship that joins our country,” the statement from the Elysee Palace said. It also expressed France’s desire to follow up on Lebanon’s implementation of economic and social reforms linked to the CEDRE conference.
The U.S. State Department congratulated Lebanon in a statement that also expressed concern over Hezbollah’s position in the new Cabinet. “We commend Lebanese leaders for working collectively to overcome the political obstacles that prolonged this process, and we look forward to engaging with the new Lebanese government to strengthen further our bilateral relationship,” the statement read.
But the State Department warned against Hezbollah, which named the new health minister, using ministerial resources to support itself. “We are concerned that Hezbollah, a U.S.-designated Foreign Terrorist Organization, will continue to occupy ministerial positions and was allowed to name the Public Health Minister. We call on the new government to ensure the resources and services of these ministries do not provide support to Hezbollah.”
The statement follows earlier comments from Marshall Billingslea, assistant secretary for terrorist financing in the U.S. Treasury Department, who Thursday reiterate Washington’s commitment to its sanctions on Hezbollah. He told reporters at a news conference at the U.S. Embassy in Beirut: “If we see that Hezbollah exploits, and they will exploit whatever ministry they are given, to funnel money and other terrorist agendas then we have significant problems with that.” Billingslea’s remarks came at the end of a two-day trip to Lebanon where he visited President Michel Aoun, Prime Minister Saad Hariri, Speaker Nabih Berri, Finance Minister Ali Hasan Khalil, Central Bank Gov. Riad Salameh and other officials.
Hezbollah’s backer Iran offered words of welcome and expressed Iran’s continued support for Lebanon’s stability Friday via a statement by Foreign Ministry spokesperson Bahram Qassemi. “This success is not limited to the formation of the government. It shows the ability of a nation and its leaders to shape their future within the framework of independence and without any foreign pressure and with unity, agreement and sympathy,” Qassemi said.
United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres reiterated the U.N.’s commitment to supporting Lebanon’s sovereignty and stability in a statement that also praised the Cabinet formation. “The secretary-general looks forward to working closely with the new government to continue to address urgent political, security, humanitarian and economic challenges, including in the follow-up to the international conferences of support to Lebanon held last year.”
Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte also gave his congratulations. “This long-awaited and positive development will contribute to strengthening the stability, unity and prosperity of the country,” the premier said in a statement.
Conte also restated Italy’s “strong commitment to the security of Lebanon, as confirmed by its role within UNIFIL.” Italy contributes the largest number of troops to UNIFIL and is currently headed by Italian Maj. Gen. Stefano Del Col, who was appointed in August 2018.
The Canadian Embassy in Lebanon joined the international community in congratulating the new government over social media. The delegation was one of those that highlighted the appointment of four female ministers to the new Cabinet. “Congratulations to the new female ministers ... A first for a Lebanese government!” Lebanon’s previous government only included one female minister.