Lebanese PM-designate waits as Paris negotiates with Tehran

France still believes it is possible to make Hezbollah adopt a more flexible position towards forming a new government. But the militant Shia party’s decision is in Tehran and not in Beirut.
Saturday 19/09/2020
Lebanese President Michel Aoun (L) meets with Prime Minister-designate Mustapha Adib at the presidential palace in Baabda, September 17. (DPA)
Lebanese President Michel Aoun (L) meets with Prime Minister-designate Mustapha Adib at the presidential palace in Baabda, September 17. (DPA)

BEIRUT – After meeting with President Michel Aoun, Lebanese Prime Minister-designate Mustapha Adib decided to wait before officially declaring his inability to form a new government.

Political sources believe Adib’s decision is tied to a request from France that he wait before ending his cabinet formation quest.

Indeed, Paris, which is negotiating with Tehran, still believes that it is possible to make Hezbollah take a more flexible position towards forming a new government, especially since its decision is in Tehran and not Beirut.

A source close to Adib revealed that the Elysee Palace called the prime minister-designate while he was on his way to Baabda Palace, knowing that the letter of apology was in his pocket, and asked him to wait some more.

Adib acquiesced to the French request even though he had discovered that he will not be able to progress at all in forming a new government in light of the insistence of the “Shia duo” (Amal Movement and Hezbollah) to nominate Shia ministers in the government and have a Shia at the helm of the finance ministry, which is contrary to the French initiative that the pair had already agreed to.

With the insistence of the “Shia duo” to impose their will on the prime minister-designate, the US Treasury announced sanctions on two construction companies affiliated with Hezbollah and Sultan Khalifa Asad, the deputy chairman of Hezbollah’s executive council headed by Hashem Safi al-Din. The two companies are Arch Consulting and Meamar Construction and are involved in implementing projects to benefit Iran and companies affiliated with the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) in Lebanon.

Commenting on the new US sanctions, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo wrote on Twitter, “Hezballah relies on corrupt self-enrichment to advance its agenda in Lebanon. Today we designated two Hezballah-linked companies and one official involved in illicit schemes. The people of Lebanon deserve better and the U.S. will continue to stand against corruption.”

Adib went to the presidential palace in a pessimistic atmosphere. Sources quoted him as saying, “The mission I was assigned, as a result of an understanding between the majority of the Lebanese political forces, was to form a government of non-political specialists, in a record period, and to start implementing reforms immediately.”

“On this basis, the goal was not to monopolise the decision process, nor to target any of the Lebanese political components, but rather to form a government of specialists. Any other proposal will subsequently assume a different approach to the new government, and this does not correspond to the mission for which it was picked,” he added.

Adib concluded, “Because I’m keen to keep the mission I’m performing in line with the spirit of the basic understanding on a government of specialists, I asked President Michel Aoun to postpone the meeting between us, for further contacts before determining the final position.”

Adib did not give the timeline he had agreed on with Aoun. Last Tuesday was the deadline that Lebanese politicians had agreed on with Paris to form a new government of specialists.

Hezbollah’s parliament bloc criticised “the extremely negative American role to strike down all efforts to form a government in Lebanon that would fulfil the tasks of the current stage,” in an attempt to evade accusations directed against the party and its ally, Amal Movement, of impeding Adib’s efforts.

The bloc announced in a statement it would refuse to let “anyone else name the ministers who should be representing us in the new government or to ban the component to which we belong from being awarded a ministerial portfolio, especially the Ministry of Finance.”

“Some of those who form the shadow government tend to confiscate the decision of the other components by preventing the prime minister-designate (Adib) from consulting with the blocs and by creating a new mechanism that prohibits the components from naming their ministers and breaks the balance by snatching the financial portfolio from us,” the statement said.

On Wednesday, the French presidency expressed its “disappointment” that the Lebanese political class did not respect the pledge they made during Macron’s visit, namely to form a government within 15 days.

According to the France-based EuroNews TV network, “It is still not too late for all to shoulder their responsibilities and finally work for the interest of Lebanon alone by allowing Prime Minister Mustafa Adib to form a government commensurate with the gravity of the situation.”