Hariri says no progress on new Lebanon government after meeting president

Prime minister-designate's latest talks with Michel Aoun followed international tour to rally support for crisis-hit country

Lebanese Prime Minister-designate Saad al-Hariri speaks at the presidential palace in Baabda, Lebanon February 12, 2021. Dalati Nohra/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY
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Lebanon's prime minister-designate Saad Hariri dashed hopes of a breakthrough in negotiations on forming a government after a meeting with President Michel Aoun on Friday.

The talks came days after Mr Hariri completed an international tour aimed at rallying support to help the country weather its worst economic crisis in decades.

On Wednesday he met French President Emmanuel Macron in Paris on the final stop of a tour that included visits to the UAE, Egypt and Turkey and began after  negotiations with Mr Aoun over the Cabinet make-up ended in deadlock.

The pair's political disagreement against the backdrop of rising regional tensions between Iran and its rivals has left Lebanon without a fully functioning government six months after a massive explosion destroyed large parts of the capital Beirut.

Lebanese Prime Minister-designate Saad al-Hariri meets with Lebanon's President Michel Aoun at the presidential palace in Baabda, Lebanon February 12, 2021. Dalati Nohra/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY

Despite the urgency, "no progress" has been made towards forming a government, Mr Hariri told reporters after his first meeting with the president since his return.

Mr Hariri said his tour was aimed at reviving Lebanon’s ties with Arab states and the international community. Lebanon’s relations with its traditional allies, including Gulf states that have long provided the small Mediterranean nation with financial support, have deteriorated as the Iran-backed armed group Hezbollah strengthened its grip over the country.

Mr Hariri cautioned against wasting a “golden opportunity” to form a Cabinet capable of undertaking reforms in exchange for financial support.

“I explained to the president the golden opportunity that we are presented with and that we must quickly seek the formation of the government,” he said. “Now, every party bears responsibility for its positions.”

The international community has pressed Lebanon’s political leaders to form a Cabinet committed to the implementation of reforms as a prerequisite for much needed financial support.

Mr Hariri, who kicked off his tour almost two weeks after putting forward a Cabinet line-up of 18 “non-partisan” experts that failed to win the approval of the president, said he remained steadfast in his position.

"I am still holding on to my position to form a government of 18 ministers who are all experts and where no one holds a ‘blocking third’,” he said.

Mr Hariri's political party has accused the president of seeking a third of the Cabinet’s seats to secure veto power over key resolutions.

Mr Aoun has denied the accusation, insisting that he and other political parties must be consulted on the Cabinet line-up.

A statement released by the president’s office on Friday said Mr Hariri didn’t “bring anything new at the government level”.

According to Lebanon's constitution, the proposed ministers must be approved by both the president and prime minister before the government seeks a vote of confidence in Parliament, where Hezbollah and its allies currently hold a majority.