04/23/2021, 13.20
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Hariri meets Pope seeking support for the formation of Lebanon’s cabinet

Yesterday the pontiff received the prime minister designate. The talks focused on Lebanon’s political crisis and the delays in forming a cabinet. The pontiff fears that the political row might take on a confessional character. Hariri, a Sunni, highlights the Vatican’s role in dealing with the country’s many crises.

Beirut (AsiaNews) - “I think the Vatican, more than anyone else, knows about Lebanon's problems,” said Lebanese Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri after he met in audience with Pope Francis, followed by meetings with Secretary of State Card Pietro Parolin and Secretary for Relations with States Bishop Paul Gallagher.

As the prime minister-designate multiplies his international meetings to solve the difficulties and differences that have prevented him from forming a new cabinet for more than eight months, he also wants to warn against parties and factions that reject compromise and “want Lebanon to sink.”

Hariri, who heads the Future Movement, is trying to convince the Vatican that his battle is purely political, while Gebran Bassil, leader of the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) is openly trying to present himself as the champion of “Christian rights”.

A source close to the FPM, interviewed by L'Orient-Le Jour, has said that “the delegation that met the Pope reported [his] desire that the current political row in Lebanon not take on a confessional character.”

According to the same source, the pontiff noted that the problem is not about Christian rights, but about “the rights of the Lebanese”.

The director of the Vatican Press Office Matteo Bruni told reporters that “during the private audience granted to Hariri, which lasted about thirty minutes, the Pope reiterated his closeness to the Lebanese people, who are going through a moment of great difficulty and uncertainty.”

The Holy Father also “appealed to the sense of responsibility of all political forces to work as quickly as possible for the good of the nation.”

“Reiterating his desire to visit the country as soon as the situation permits, Pope Francis expressed the desire that Lebanon, helped by the international community, should start again to incarnate [...] a great people, reconciled with its vocation to be a land of encounter, living together and pluralism”, said Bruni citing a message sent by the Pontiff to the Lebanese people, during his trip home from the apostolic journey to Iraq.

For his part, Hariri said at a press conference that during his talks with the pontiff he mentioned “the role that the Vatican can play in helping Lebanon deal with the crises it is going through” after eight months of unproductive efforts to form a cabinet.

“There are external difficulties in this regard concerning Gebran [Bassil] and his allies” said Hariri, in a reference to Hezbollah. “I have asked the Vatican to intervene wherever possible.”

Many believe that Hezbollah is using the formation of a cabinet in Lebanon as leverage in the standoff between Iran and the United States.

Hariri, knowing that the Pope repeatedly mentioned Lebanon's problems with the French president, went on to say that the French initiative to end the crisis in Lebanon, presented on 1 September 2020 in Beirut by President Emmanuel Macron, “is still valid.”

“I think,” he added, “that the Vatican knows more than anyone about Lebanon’s problems.”

The prime minister-designate said that Patriarch Beshara al-Rahi “supports the formation of a cabinet composed of independent experts. Any statement contrary to this comes from well-known sources,” he added in a clear reference to President Michel Aoun and his faction who want a cabinet of experts and “politicians”.

“What is happening in Lebanon,” warns Hariri, in a new attack against the president, his son-in-law Gebran Bassil and his ally, Hezbollah, “is that one side wants a free economy and another wants to get its hands on electrical power and other strategic assets, and only wants to deal with one side in economic matters.”

“We are in an extremely bad situation, but the formation of the cabinet will help stop the collapse, except that some people want Lebanon to collapse in order to stay politically afloat.”

Finally, responding to criticism from the president and his camp about travel abroad, Hariri, a Sunni , explained that they were intended to “find the means to help Lebanon. Perhaps, some people are tourists inside the presidential palace.”

He noted that these trips “are a step towards the formation of the cabinet, [. . .] to save time. It is like making first the visits that we should make after the formation of the cabinet.”

Hariri said the Pope “would like to come to Lebanon, but only after the formation of a cabinet.”

In Rome, Hariri's agenda included meetings with Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi and Italian Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio.

The Vatican meeting focused “on the historic relations between the Holy See and Lebanon and on the role the Vatican can play in helping Lebanon face the crises it is going through”, said the prime minister’s press office at the end of the audience.

As usual, the prime minister-designate gave the pontiff a gift, a work of art depicting Saint George killing the dragon, made by Palestinian Christians who have lived in Colombia for three generations.

Prime minister-designate arrived in Rome yesterday accompanied by former minister Ghattas Khoury and an adviser. (FN)

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