x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 21 November 2017

Busy diplomat Macron gets stuck into Lebanon crisis

He and his ministers have held a flurry of talks with players shaping the turmoil, with Macron jetting to Saudi Arabia last week for surprise talks with the crown prince

Lebanese foreign minister Gebran Bassil (L) and French president Emmanuel Macron (R) attend a meeting at the Elysee Palace in Paris, France, on November 14, 2017. Francois Mori / EPA
Lebanese foreign minister Gebran Bassil (L) and French president Emmanuel Macron (R) attend a meeting at the Elysee Palace in Paris, France, on November 14, 2017. Francois Mori / EPA

From global warming to Iran's nuclear deal, France's president Emmanuel Macron has already intervened in a series of diplomatic quagmires — and now finds himself pursuing an active role in Lebanon's crisis.

He and his ministers have held a flurry of talks with players shaping the turmoil, with Mr Macron jetting to Saudi Arabia last week for surprise talks with the crown prince.

He said France had a role to play in bringing peace to a region suffering soaring tensions between Saudi Arabia and Iran, which are already backing opposing sides in the conflicts in Syria and Yemen.

Like other European governments, France is pushing for Lebanese premier Saad Hariri to return following his shock resignation in Saudi Arabia on November 4 and rumours he is being held there against his will. Although he and Saudi officials have denied such reports.

"France is acting so that all parties exercising an influence in Lebanon commit to the situation going back to normal as quickly as possible," prime minister Edouard Philippe said on Tuesday.

Mr Hariri himself has sought to downplay the situation, tweeting: "Guys, I am perfectly fine, and God willing I will return in the coming days."

But Lebanon's foreign minister Gebran Bassil, who met with Mr Macron on Tuesday, told a press conference in Paris: "The only thing that will prove he is free to return, is his return."

Lebanon is caught between Saudi Arabia and the Iran-backed Hizbollah, which Mr Hariri has accused of controlling his country.

France had mandate power over both Lebanon and Syria during the first half of the 20th century.

Though the room for manoeuvre is tight, Paris has been using strong regional relationships to push for Mr Hariri's return.

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The Lebanese crisis is not the first time since Mr Macron's election in May in which the young French president has sought an active role in a tense diplomatic situation.

He has repeatedly said he wants to keep the Iranian deal from collapsing despite opposition from US president Donald Trump.

He has also refused to invite Mr Trump to a Paris climate summit next month following Washington's withdrawal from the historic international pact to fight global warming.

And he organised a meeting between Libya's rival leaders in Paris in July at which they agreed a conditional ceasefire and elections for next year.