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EU foreign policy chief threatens sanctions if Lebanon can't form gov't

By
Don Jacobson
EU High Representative Josep Borrell speaks at a news conference Saturday after his meeting with Lebanese president Michel Aoun at the presidential palace near Beirut. Photo by Nabil Mounzer/EPA-EFE
EU High Representative Josep Borrell speaks at a news conference Saturday after his meeting with Lebanese president Michel Aoun at the presidential palace near Beirut. Photo by Nabil Mounzer/EPA-EFE

June 19 (UPI) -- Lebanon could face targeted sanctions if its political leaders don't stop obstructing the establishment of a new reform government, the European Union's foreign policy chief warned Saturday.

After having a "frank exchange" with Lebanese President Michel Aoun, EU High Representative Josep Borrell told reporters in Beirut the country's months-long political stalemate amid a series of domestic crises is testing the European bloc's patience.

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"The Lebanese leadership must take its responsibility and adopt the necessary measures without more delay -- a government must be formed and key reforms implemented immediately," he said.

The European Council, he warned, "has been discussing options, including targeted sanctions. Of course we prefer not to go down this route and we hope that we will not have to. But it is in the hands of the Lebanese leadership."

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Borrell's visit came ahead of a meeting of EU officials in Brussels next week to discuss imposing sanctions on Lebanese officials accused of corruption and political obstruction.

Citing Lebanon's 40% unemployment rate and the collapse of its currency -- which has lost 78% of its value since October -- Borrell said the crises have put the country on "the edge of a financial collapse."

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"Let me insist," he said. "We stand ready to assist, if this what you want. But if there is further obstruction to solutions to the current multi-dimensional crisis in the country, we will have to consider other courses of action, as some member states have proposed."

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After meeting with Aoun, Borrell will next hold talks with Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri, caretaker Prime Minister Hassan Diab and House Speaker Nabih Berri in a bid to break Lebanon's seemingly intractable political stalemate.

The EU last year provided nearly $400 million to Lebanon, pegged to promises of reforms aimed a tackling corruption, streamlining bureaucracy and eliminating costly subsidies of essentials.

Those promised reforms have not materialized due to disagreements between Aoun and Hariri, who last month blamed the nine-month standoff on the president for insisting on a new government that will follow his will.

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