Navigating political turmoil: Le Drian's appointment signals French policy shift

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2023-06-08 | 01:23
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Navigating political turmoil: Le Drian's appointment signals French policy shift
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5min
Navigating political turmoil: Le Drian's appointment signals French policy shift

French President Emmanuel Macron has appointed former Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian as his personal envoy to Lebanon. 
 
The news was anticipated in political and diplomatic circles amid indications of the need for some change in the French position or approach to the presidential equation set by Paris. 

According to sources, Le Drian has been tasked with preparing a comprehensive report on the situation in Lebanon. He is also expected to visit Lebanon soon to meet with officials and compile his report.
 
The appointment of Le Drian coincided with the opposition forces' agreement to nominate Jihad Azour for the presidency following the visit of Maronite Patriarch Bechara Rai to Paris.
 
The Patriarch's main indication was that a president could not be imposed on the Christians without their consent.
 
Two Steps Backward
 
Based on these indications, France has taken two steps backward. 
 
The first step was taken after the meeting with the Patriarch, emphasizing that France does not endorse any candidate or provide support to anyone. 
 
Instead, it seeks to reach an agreement among the Lebanese and elect a president. 
 
France had treated the nomination of Sleiman Frangieh as the existing and realistic candidate as long as the opposition forces had not agreed on a president among themselves. 
 
The second step backward is the appointment of Le Drian as a special presidential envoy to Lebanon, which carries significant implications. 
 
What is leaked from French circles indicates a commitment to the principle of consensus among the Lebanese and the necessity of reaching an agreement on electing the president. 
 
Here, sources describe the new French step as turning a page in favor of opening a second one. Still, that page will need crystallization and may take a long time to emerge.
Other Options

One aspect behind Le Drian's appointment is related to his return to the spotlight and the role given to him after his exit from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
 
Meanwhile, the role played by Le Drian could draw some cards out of the hands of Presidential Advisor Patrick Durel at the Élysée Palace.

This doesn't mean that Durel's role will diminish, but he won't be solely responsible and knowledgeable about the Lebanese file. 
 
He will continue in his position at the Élysée with his own perspective. At the same time, Le Drian must form his own perspective based on the report he will prepare.

Within the French discussions as well, multiple viewpoints have emerged, including some reservations about the previous French performance regarding the insistence on one equation and marketing it. 

Even one of President Macron's close associates, former Ambassador to Lebanon Emmanuel Bonne, who was supportive of Sleiman Frangieh's candidacy, stated a few days ago that there are other candidates besides Frangieh. This implicitly means that it is time to start considering other options.

The Relationship with Saudi Arabia

A few days ago, "al-Modon" published a report titled "The Internal Struggle in the Presidential Stalemate... Waiting for the French Pivot," which indirectly referred to a new direction within the French administration that is expected to emerge in the coming phase.

Consequently, the first indications of this pivot come with the decision of the French presidency, while some information suggests that the decision entails a French attempt to reorganize the relationship with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. 
 
Saudi Arabia was particularly keen on the success of the French initiative in Lebanon, based on the principle of no party overpowering the other, which was agreed upon in the Paris Conference. However, France has since changed its position.

In the context of coordination between the two sides, sources indicate that Saudi Arabia took a step forward by lifting its veto on any candidate in the Lebanese arena to facilitate the French endeavor. 
 
However, when Saudi Arabia facilitated, the opposition in Lebanon intensified and reached an agreement on a candidate, leading to growing Christian anger towards the French.
 
Therefore, Paris needed to take a step back in its position and take a step towards Saudi Arabia, based on not clinging to any candidate and not vetoing any option, provided that the Lebanese reached a consensus among themselves.
 
Some consider that Le Drian also enjoys a good relationship with Saudi officials. Among the available information, Le Drian's relationship is based on little understanding and harmony with both Emmanuel Bonne and Patrick Durel, who are considered to support Sleiman Frangieh. 
 
This move could lead to further Saudi-French rapprochement. And this may open the door to a return to activating the quintet meetings after Le Drian begins his duties.
 
 
 
 

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