In crisis-hit Lebanon, Paris and Washington at odds over Hezbollah

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Lebanese movement Hezbollah is a major political actor with a broad support base in the country's Shiite community / © AFP/File

BEIRUT  —  When it comes to Lebanon, the US and France have similar outlooks, but one major point of difference involves the Hezbollah movement — shunned by Washington but tolerated by a pragmatic Parisian leadership.

While the United States seeks to isolate and curb the influence of the Iran-backed group it has designated a “terrorist” organisation and punished with sanctions, France recognises it as a key political actor whose cooperation is needed to lift Lebanon out of crisis.

Lebanon’s government stepped down last month amid popular anger over a massive blast at Beirut’s port on August 4 that killed 191 people, wounded thousands and ravaged large parts of the capital.

Both Western powers have agreed Lebanon needs a cabinet different from its predecessors to tackle urgent reforms, but all consensus seems to end there.

“France’s approach tends to be more realistic,” analyst Karim Bitar told AFP.

“France views Lebanon as it is, while the (US President Donald) Trump administration tends to view Lebanon as it would like it to be.”

The US view is that Hezbollah — the only group not to have disarmed after the 1975-1990 civil war — holds excessive influence in Lebanon, “which needs to be contained”, Bitar said.

But Paris recognises “Hezbollah in Lebanon is a major political actor, that it has a wide captive constituency in Lebanon’s Shiite community, that it is here to stay,” he added.

– ‘Elected by the people’ –

The United States has been following closely as French President Emmanuel Macron twice visited Lebanon since August 4 to press for political change and reforms to unlock financial aid.–AFP

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