France stands by Lebanon in wake of explosions - Minister
Lebanon – Conversation between M. Jean-Yves Le Drian, Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs, and Mr Charbel Wehbe, Lebanese Foreign Minister – Statement by M. Le Drian
Paris, 5 August 2020
The day after the terrible explosions which plunged Beirut into mourning, the Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs spoke this morning to his counterpart, Mr Charbel Wehbe.
M. Jean-Yves Le Drian reiterated to him his deep shock and sorrow in the face of this tragedy. It is in times of ordeal and suffering that one recognizes one’s friends, and in this new ordeal France stands by Lebanese people, as it always has done and always will do. The Minister reiterated his condolences to the victims’ families and wished the many injured people a swift recovery.
The Minister signalled France’s full mobilization to lend assistance to Lebanon, at the Lebanese Government’s request. As from today, French assistance is being sent and will arrive in Beirut in the afternoon on several planes, including two French armed forces military planes, carrying a sécurité civile [emergency services] detachment, emergency medical staff and a mobile medical unit, all made available by the Interior Ministry and allowing 500 injured people to be cared for. Lebanon and Lebanese people know they can count on France at this difficult time./.
Paris, 5 August 2020
Q. – We’ve just heard that 300,000 people have lost their homes and there’s at least 3 billion in damage. France is sending planes. What will the scale of France’s assistance be?
THE MINISTER – First of all, it’s an absolute disaster, it’s a terrible tragedy affecting a country that was already suffering. And it’s also a disaster that’s taken place in a country which is more than a friend, it’s a sister country: Lebanon is France’s family, in a way. And so France deeply shares the mourning, the suffering that the Lebanese are currently experiencing.
The French President spoke to President Aoun yesterday evening. He’s currently talking to Prime Minister Diab; I myself spoke to my foreign affairs colleague Mr Wehbe earlier, first of all to express France’s support, solidarity and shock and to say that it’s in ordeals that friends are there. And we are there.
We’re there as from today, because three planes are leaving today for Beirut, one from Marseille with teams of immediately operational medical practitioners, two from Roissy with equipment, 25 tonnes, with the Interior Ministry’s security teams, and there are also firefighters from Marseille for immediate help. But the scale of the disaster is such that we’ll have to take other initiatives, albeit only humanitarian initiatives in the coming days. And France is going to take initiatives very quickly in this regard.
Q. – On that issue of initiatives, we’ve understood that France is sending emergency aid – like many countries, incidentally: the international community has reacted quite quickly. But over time – as you’ve said, it’s a country that was already totally falling apart –, what can France’s support consist of? We know France and Lebanon are countries that are extremely close to each other, there’s a special relationship between our two countries. What will France’s support consist of, even perhaps beyond financial support?
THE MINISTER – First of all it’s support for reconstruction, local support, support in the form of empathy, immediate humanitarian support that is needed. The first thing is to bandage the wounds and ensure the population regains a minimum level of stability.
And secondly, questions will have to be asked. There are many; they exist. Not long ago I was in Beirut and I talked to the Lebanese authorities about the scale of the issues facing the country. But today the immediate thing is solidarity.
Q. – When you were there last week, you also criticized the passiveness of the authorities. How has the country got into this situation?
THE MINISTER – I think there have been a series of abandonments, and yet I think the necessary forces exist for the country to get back up. The people have shown a desire to ensure the country regains strength. And it’s enough to implement a number of reforms, as the authorities are well aware, and France is determined to ensure they’re carried through, because the country must play its full role in the region and be sheltered from the consequences of the crises existing around it, in order to put its own stamp on its history, on its will to live, and the Lebanese people have shown this several times.
But for the moment I repeat to you, the thing now is to ensure there is international solidarity. France is stepping up, it will take initiatives that must be taken in the coming days to ensure humanitarian aid arrives. And then the time will come for reconstruction and most probably for explanations.
Q. – When you say, “it will take other initiatives”, does that mean possibly sending other assistance and then even doing more?
THE MINISTER – The other assistance, yes. Of course there are urgent necessities [for] which we must mobilize, not only in France but also at European level and at the level of the international community. And that’s where we’ll take the necessary initiatives in the coming hours.
And we must then also look to the future. Today there will be a problem of docking in the port, for example, because the port was completely destroyed by the explosion. There will also be an essential need for food, because the grain silos themselves were blown up. We must try and take action on all that in the next few hours.
In the immediate future it’s about immediate assistance, because not all the people buried have yet been found. That’s why there are specialist teams going from France to help the Lebanese practitioners do this difficult job.
Q. – You may have heard inhabitants, intellectuals even, saying, “we’ve been calling for help from the international community for months and it hasn’t seen us. It’s taken this horror for our country to be visible again.” Is there any hope that the international community will get the message and help Lebanon?
THE MINISTER – But the international community has risen to the challenge of Lebanon many times – France too. In Paris last December we brought together all the stakeholders who really wanted to help Lebanon.
It’s important for Lebanon to introduce the reforms that must be introduced. And the authorities are well aware of it. It’s the condition for international aid. I’ve asked the Lebanese several times to help us to help them, and that was indeed the issue.
Now we’re facing a tragedy and I’d rather solidarity were exerted immediately so that we can then tackle the major questions existing over the country’s future.
Q. – Are you worried about the already very precarious stability in the region and the geopolitical consequences for the region, but also for the whole world?
THE MINISTER – Lebanon is in the middle of an area of major crises. It’s always wanted to be dissociated both from the Syrian crisis and from the difficulties there may be in the region, the confrontations between various parties. For the moment they’ve managed to ensure that this Lebanese identity is maintained. In order for it to be maintained, it’s important for the country to introduce the necessary reforms./.