Lebanon’s Officials Break Deadlock, See Opportunity For Cabinet

Lebanon’s Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri said he saw a chance to end months of deadlock over the formation of a new government, a day after clashing with the president over a political impasse that’s accelerated the country’s economic collapse.

Speaking to reporters after meeting President Michel Aoun Thursday, the incoming premier said the talks had been intended to ease tensions and the two leaders would meet again Monday to try to agree on a cabinet lineup as soon as possible.

“I will be honest with you; there is an opportunity that we should take advantage of,” Hariri said.

The apparent thaw follows a fiery exchange on Wednesday night that appeared to deepen divisions.

In a brief televised speech Wednesday, Aoun asked Hariri to step down if he was unable to form a government and said the alternative was to meet and agree on an administration “without excuses or delays.”

Hariri hit back on Twitter, saying he was willing to meet the president for the 17th time since he was tasked by parliament with forming a government. He said Aoun should make way for a new presidential election if he was unable to sign off on a non-partisan lineup “capable of implementing reforms to stop the collapse and alleviate the people’s suffering.”

Hariri has insisted since he was tapped for the job in October that the next government should be comprised of nonpartisan experts able to manage the country’s worst financial crisis in decades. He has since clashed repeatedly with Aoun, who wants more say over the lineup and larger representation for his own political allies.

The standoff has left Lebanon under a caretaker government since August, when outgoing Premier Hassan Diab resigned in the aftermath of an explosion that killed at least 200 people and destroyed swaths of the capital. Diab’s team is unable to resume talks with the International Monetary Fund or implement economic reforms required to unlock donor support.

The prolonged inaction has accelerated an economic and banking crisis that’s dragged more than half the population into poverty. Lebanon has succumbed to hyperinflation as the pound has plunged, losing some 90% of its value against the dollar on the black market since anti-government protests erupted in October 2019.

The economy shrank 25% last year, pushing unemployment to record levels as businesses close. As the collapse has gathered pace, small groups of protesters have begun to block highways across the country with dumpsters and burning tires, raising pressure on politicians to act.

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