French spy master joins effort to deliver Lebanese reforms, sources say

BEIRUT (Reuters) - France’s intelligence chief has joined efforts to push Lebanon to deliver a new government and reforms, Lebanese sources said on Thursday, buttressing President Emmanuel Macron’s bid to pull the country out of a devastating economic crisis.

FILE PHOTO: Director of the French external intelligence agency General Directorate of External Security (DGSE) Bernard Emie and President's personal Chief of Military Staff Admiral Bernard Rogel react at the end of the annual Bastille Day military ceremony on the Place de la Concorde in Paris, July 14, 2020. Ludovic Marin/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo

Macron is center stage in international efforts to press fractious Lebanese politicians to address a crisis seen as the biggest threat to Lebanon’s stability since the 1975-1990 civil war.

The crisis, caused by decades of corruption and mismanagement, was compounded by a huge Aug. 4 Beirut port blast that killed more than 190 people and ruined a swathe of the capital.

During his visit to Lebanon on Tuesday, Macron gave Lebanese politicians until the end of October to start delivering reform, warning they could face sanctions if corruption gets in the way.

Bernard Emie, director general of France’s external intelligence service, the Direction Generale de la Securite Exterieure (DGSE), has been in contact with Lebanese officials on the issues discussed during Macron’s visit, three Lebanese officials said.

Asked whether Emie was playing a role, the French presidency said: “The president does the follow-up and everyone within the state does its job. The (foreign) minister will make calls.”

Emie, the French ambassador to Lebanon from 2004 to 2007, was appointed DGSE head shortly after Macron took office in 2017.

“He is following all the files that Macron presented in his last visit and with this purpose is in touch with many Lebanese officials across the political spectrum,” a senior Lebanese official said. “He is urging them to accelerate the implementation of reforms.”

Emie was appointed ambassador to Lebanon after serving as an adviser to French President Jacques Chirac. He was in the post when Lebanon’s Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri, a close friend of Chirac, was assassinated in 2005.

Diplomats say he played a key role in efforts to push Syrian troops out of Lebanon. Syrian forces entered Lebanon during its civil war and remained afterwards.

Emie is among several French officials following up with Lebanese factions. Others include Emmanuel Bonne, Macron’s chief diplomatic adviser and another former envoy to Beirut, the sources said.

Pressure from Macron pushed Lebanese leaders to agree on a new prime minister, Mustapha Adib, who has started talks to form a cabinet of specialist ministers.

While France, Lebanon’s former colonial power, is at the forefront of diplomacy, other countries also have influence, including Iran through its support for the heavily armed Shi’ite group Hezbollah.

The United States, which lists Hezbollah as a terrorist group, is also a major donor, including to the Lebanese army.

Senior U.S. official David Schenker, on a visit to Beirut, told an-Nahar newspaper the United States appreciated the French effort but there were “slight differences” with Paris.

Schenker said Washington did not believe Hezbollah was a legitimate political organization and was not “inclined to reform”. Macron described the group as an elected part of the political system.

Reporting by Tom Perry and Laila Bassam in Beirut and Michel Rose and John Irish in Paris; Writing by Tom Perry; Editing by Edmund Blair