Two Days After Deadline, Lebanese PM-designate 'Gives More Time' for Cabinet Talks

Iran-backed Hezbollah insists on naming Shi'ite ministers in cabinet, while U.S. sanctions companies it says help to enrich the group's leadership

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Designated Prime Minister Mustapha Adib, gestures as he arrives at the presidential palace in Baabda, Lebanon August 31, 2020.
Designated Prime Minister Mustapha Adib, gestures as he arrives at the presidential palace in Baabda, Lebanon August 31, 2020.Credit: REUTERS/Mohamed Azakir

Lebanese Prime Minister-designate Mustapha Adib said on Thursday he would give more time for talks about the formation of a new government as his faltering efforts raised doubts about a French initiative to lift the country out of a deep economic crisis.

France has been leaning on Lebanon's sectarian politicians to form a new cabinet and embark on reforms to exit the crisis that is the worst facing the country since its 1975-1990 civil war. But a deadline of September 15 that politicians had promised Paris they would meet has already been missed.

The process has been bogged down as Lebanon's dominant Shi'ite Muslim factions, the Iran-backed Hezbollah and Amal Movement, have insisted on naming Shi'ite ministers in the cabinet and said these must include the finance minister.

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 specialist ministers to deliver reforms mapped out by France.

Lebanese media reports had indicated he might step down.

FILE PHOTO: Lebanon's Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, second right, in Beirut's southern suburbs, Lebanon September 17, 2012.Credit: SHARIF KARIM/ REUTERS

But after meeting President Michel Aoun, Adib said he had agreed "to hold off a bit to give more time for consultations."

"I presented to the president the difficulties that are facing forming the government," he said. "I know full well that we do not have the luxury of time. And we count on everyone's cooperation."

Adib, a Sunni Muslim, was designated prime minister on August 31 by a clear majority of Lebanese parties under French pressure. He enjoys the backing of former Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri, Lebanon's leading Sunni politician.

Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, the Amal chief, 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.

The aide, Ali Hassan Khalil, is a former finance minister.

The United States imposed sanctions on Thursday on two Lebanon-based companies and one individual it said were linked to Hezbollah, according to the U.S. Treasury Department's website.

The U.S. Treasury Department blacklisted Lebanon-based Arch Consulting and Meamar Construction, companies it said were leveraged by Hezbollah to conceal money transfers to the group's own accounts, helping to enrich Hezbollah leadership.

A damaged hospital is seen after a massive explosion in Beirut, Lebanon, August 5, 2020. Credit: AP Photo/Hassan Ammar

Also hit with sanctions was Sultan Khalifah As'ad, who the Treasury said is a senior Hezbollah Executive Council official.

The action freezes any U.S. assets of those blacklisted and generally bars Americans from dealing with them. Those than engage in certain transactions with those designated are also at risk of being hit with secondary sanctions, the Treasury said.

Thursday's move follows U.S. action this month that blacklisted two former government ministers over accusations they enabled Hezbollah as Washington warned that more actions targeting the group were coming.

Fifteen years after the assassination of Lebanon's Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri, heavily armed group Hezbollah has risen to become the overarching power in a country that is now collapsing under a series of devastating crises.

Lebanon's banks are paralyzed, its currency has crashed and sectarian tensions are rising. On top of that, a huge port blast last month smashed a large swath of Beirut, killing more than 190 people and causing damage estimated at up to $4.6 billion

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