Lebanon’s prime minister-designate has said he is making slow progress towards forming a government, dashing hopes for a breakthrough in negotiations over the Cabinet’s line-up.
A source close to President Michel Aoun said discussions on the distribution of portfolios among confessional groups had advanced, but that an agreement on the allocation of key ministries had not yet been reached.
“We would be committing a great sin if we don’t quickly form a government ... We made progress in consultations today, and though progress has been slow, we are persevering and insisting on forming a government,” Najib Mikati said on Thursday after meeting Mr Aoun.
The president will meet the prime minister-designate again on Friday to pursue discussions, the source said.
Control over the interior and justice ministries has been at the heart of the latest round of discussions between the president and prime minister-designate.
Mr Mikati, a billionaire businessman, is the third prime minister to be designated in less a year to form a cabinet.
He succeeds Future Movement leader Saad Hariri, who stepped down after nine months of bickering with Mr Aoun over the Cabinet’s make-up.
Mr Hariri, the country’s most senior Sunni official, backed Mr Mikati for the post on the condition he upholds the same principles in negotiations with the president.
The international community, led by the US and France, has urged the quick formation of a cabinet capable of enacting reforms, in exchange for financial support.
Mr Hariri had accused Mr Aoun of blocking the appointment of non-partisan experts needed to unlock foreign aid.
The president, on the other hand, has argued Mr Hariri was seeking to dictate the cabinet line-up in breach of the constitution.
A donor conference organised by the UN and France on Wednesday secured pledges of $370 million in humanitarian aid for Lebanon’s most vulnerable communities. The conference took place on the anniversary of the Beirut port blast.
French President Emanuel Macron, who has visited Lebanon twice since the blast, said aid would be channelled directly to non-governmental organisations.
“There won’t be any blank cheques to the benefit of Lebanon’s political system,” he said, and blamed Lebanese officials for the worst economic and financial crisis to engulf the country in decades.
Mr Macron threatened Lebanese politicians with sanctions and said the priority was the formation of a government that enacts reforms.
Lebanon has been without a functioning Cabinet since the blast forced Hassan Diab’s government to resign last August.