Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri said after meeting Pope Francis at the Vatican on Thursday, that the Pope is willing to visit Lebanon but after Lebanese leaders form a government, noting that parties obstructing the formation “are known to the Vatican.”
“The Pope wants to visit Lebanon but after a government is formed. This is an important message for us to speed the government formation. The Pope perceives Lebanon as a message of mederation,” said Hariri in remarks to reporters after his meeting with the Pope.
Reporters asked Hariri whether Pope Francis mentioned the need to preserve the Chrisian’s rights, as recently advocated by the FPM chief Jebran Bassil.
“The Pope said nothing about the rights of Christians, he is only keen on coexistence in Lebanon,” said Hariri.
On obstacles hampering the formation, he said: “I believe there are external problems related to Jebran (Bassil) and his alliances. There is a major group hampering the government today.”
“There is a group in Lebanon wishing to have a free economy in the country, and another group wants to control the electricity, the banking sector, the telecommunications sector, everything…” added Hariri.
On the French initiative towards Lebanon, the PM-designate said: “It is standing until this moment. I believe the Vatican knows the basis of the Lebanese problem more than anyone else.”
Hariri said he asked the Vatican to “be eager on Lebanon and interfere where it finds it effective. Some politicians are trying to picture Lebanon as a hopeless case, but we can stop the collapse if we form a government. But some want the Lebanese entity to collapse.”
The Vatican released a statement also saying the 84-year-old pontiff said he would like to visit Lebanon “as soon as the conditions are favourable.”
He expressed his “closeness to the Lebanese people, who are experiencing a moment of great difficulty and uncertainty” and called upon “all political forces to urgently commit themselves to the benefit of the nation”.
Francis is hoping that Lebanon can once again embody “the fortress of the cedars, the diversity that from weakness becomes strength in the great reconciled people,” the statement said.
The Vatican didn’t list the meeting on Francis’ official agenda given that Hariri isn’t yet in office; it was described by the Vatican as a private audience, not an official state visit that carries with it specific protocol.
Hariri’s visit to the Vatican comes as Lebanon is experiencing its worst economic and financial crisis in its modern history following decades of widespread corruption. Since late 2019, the local currency has lost 90% of its value, and more than half of the country’s population now lives in poverty, according to the World Bank.
Hariri has been touring the Middle East and Europe to win support for his efforts to form a government. Among the countries he recently visited were France, Turkey, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates. He was also meeting Thursday with Italian officials.
Hariri has not been able to form a Cabinet six months after he was chosen for the prime minister’s post amid deep disagreements between him and President Michel Aoun.
One of the main points of difference includes Aoun’s rejection of Hariri’s plan to choose some Christian members of the new government.