France and Saudi Arabia have agreed to work with Lebanon to ensure reforms and establish a mechanism to provide humanitarian assistance, according to a joint statement.
French President Emmanuel Macron and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman “agreed to establish a Saudi-French mechanism for humanitarian assistance within a framework that ensures complete transparency,” the statement, published by the Saudi state news agency, said.
The press release did not include details on the announced mechanism. Paris and Riyadh are also “determined to find appropriate mechanisms in cooperation with friendly states to alleviate the suffering of the Lebanese people,” the statement said.
The statement, issued after a meeting in Jeddah between Macron and bin Salman during which the two held a phone call with PM Najib Mikati, said that France and Saudi Arabia “stressed the need for the Lebanese government to carry out comprehensive reforms.”
As published on the Saudi press agency, the statement added that arms in Lebanon need to be limited to “legitimate state institutions” and that “Lebanon should not be a launching pad for “terrorist acts” and “drug trafficking,” a reference to Riyadh’s repeated accusations that its foe Hezbollah poses a security threat to the Kingdom and is behind consigments of captagon narcotics.
Macron’s Saturday sit-down with the de-facto Saudi ruler came on the heels of Information Minister George Kurdahi’s resignation the day before. Kurdahi had said that he “understood from Mikati that the French wanted me to resign before Macron's visit to Riyadh because that could help them start a dialogue with Saudi officials regarding Lebanon.”
Macron, who stressed his affirmation for Lebanon’s sovereignty on Saturday despite his reported role in forcing Kurdahi to step down, tweeted that Riyadh and Paris were committed to working together to support reforms in Lebanon and “enable the country to emerge from its crisis and preserve its sovereignty.” In comments to the press, the French president said he would call his Lebanese counterpart, Michel Aoun, on Sunday, according to AFP.
Meanwhile, Reuters reported that Macron said Saudi Arabia had committed to re-engage financially with Lebanon. "We are therefore now going to work in a very concrete way to put this together between the two of us," the news service quoted the French president as saying.
Mikati responded to Macron with a series of his own tweets, written in French, in which he claimed that his cabinet, which has not met since Oct. 12, was committed to “meeting its reform commitments.”
The diplomatic efforts Saturday come amid a diplomatic row between Lebanon and Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states.
On Oct. 29, Saudi Arabia announced it was pulling out its ambassador from Beirut and banning Lebanese imports, after the broadcast of an interview with Kurdahi in which the now-resigned minister criticized Riyadh’s military campaign in Yemen. Kuwait, Bahrain and the UAE also recalled their envoys from Beirut