Lebanese PM-designate to hold more talks in faltering bid to appoint cabinet

BEIRUT (Reuters) - Lebanese Prime Minister-designate Mustapha Adib said on Thursday he would give more time for talks on forming a new government, after faltering efforts so far have raised doubts about prospects for a French push to lift the country out of crisis.

FILE PHOTO: Designated Prime Minister Mustapha Adib, wears a face mask as he arrives at the presidential palace in Baabda, Lebanon August 31, 2020. REUTERS/Mohamed Azakir

France has been leaning on Lebanon’s sectarian politicians to name a cabinet swiftly and embark on reforms to exit an economic crisis that is its worst since the 1975-1990 civil war.

But a deadline of Sept. 15 that politicians promised Paris they would meet has already been missed and Lebanese media reports have been suggesting Adib might step down.

After meeting President Michel Aoun, Adib said he had agreed “to give more time for consultations”.

“I know full well that we do not have the luxury of time. And we count on everyone’s cooperation,” he said, as the prime minister-designate has tried to compress into about two weeks a process that usually takes months of factional haggling.

At the heart of the dispute is a demand by Lebanon’s main Shi’ite Muslim factions, Iran-backed Hezbollah and the Amal Movement, that they name Shi’ite ministers, including the finance minister, a vital post as reforms are drawn up.

Political sources say Adib has been working on proposals to switch control of ministries, many of which have been held by the same factions for years, as he seeks to deliver a government of specialists to deliver on reforms mapped out by France.

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Adib, a Sunni Muslim, was designated prime minister on Aug. 31 by a majority of Lebanese parties under French pressure. He is backed former Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri, the leading Sunni politician.

Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, who heads Amal, became more insistent on naming the finance minister after Washington last week imposed sanctions on his senior aide for corruption and for enabling Hezbollah, political sources from several parties say.

Hezbollah, a heavily armed movement which Washington deems a terrorist group, accused the U.S. administration of “obstructing the efforts to form the government” but said it still saw an opportunity to agree on a cabinet.

“We have clearly told Hezbollah that right now de-escalation is important,” an Iranian official informed on Iran’s Lebanon policy told Reuters, adding that if Adib or others wanted stability they would also “listen to Hezbollah’s advice.”

In a new move on Thursday, the U.S. Treasury Department said it was imposing sanctions on two Lebanon-based companies and an individual it said were linked to Hezbollah.

Reporting by Ellen Francis and Tom Perry; Writing by Edmund Blair; Editing by Lisa Shumaker