Lebanese PM-designate Mustapha wants reform-minded Cabinet

BEIRUT (AP) — Lebanon’s Prime Minister-designate said on Wednesday he wants to swiftly form a government of specialists committed to enacting urgent reforms in the crisis-stricken country that can regain the trust of the Lebanese and the international community.

Mustapha Adib, a 48-year-old diplomat, spoke to reporters after holding consultations with members of Parliament over the formation of a new crisis Cabinet. He was hastily approved for the job of prime minister earlier this week, ahead of a two-day marathon visit by French President Emmanuel Macron that ended on Tuesday night.

It was Macron’s second visit in less than a month as Lebanon faces multiple crises and challenges — including an unprecedented financial and economic meltdown and the aftermath of last month’s massive explosion in Beirut’s port that ripped through the capital.

The giant August 4 explosion, caused by the ignition of nearly 3,000 tonnes of improperly stored ammonium nitrate, has resulted in intense pressure on Lebanon’s ruling elite, already blamed for driving the small country to the brink of total collapse. At least 190 people were killed and thousands were injured in the blast.

At the end of two days of meetings in Beirut, Macron said Lebanese politicians had committed to a road map that begins with the formation of a government within two weeks to enact reforms.

Lebanese Prime Minister-Designate Mustapha Adib arrives to attend a meeting with French President Emmanuel Macron at the presidential palace in Baabda, Lebanon. PHOTO: AP

Failing to do that within a three-month period would result in punitive actions, including withholding vital international assistance and possibly even sanctions against politicians, he said.

On Wednesday, United States (US) Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the US and France share the same objective and were in close communication.

“Business as usual in Lebanon just is unacceptable,” he told reporters at a State Department news conference in Washington.

“This has to be a government that conducts significant reforms, real change. … I think the French share that. I think the whole world, frankly, sees the risk,” he said.

Adib was Lebanon’s ambassador to Germany before he was called back abruptly for the prime minister job after Lebanese political parties reached a surprise agreement. He said on Wednesday the government he seeks to form is one made up of experts.

“The government should be a government of specialists that deals quickly and professionally with the challenges ahead and works on regaining the trust of Lebanese people residing here as well as in the disaspora, and the trust of the Arab and international community,” he told reporters.

He refused to take any questions, saying “now is the time for working not for talking”.

Activists have rejected Adib, labelling him a consensus candidate by a corrupt class desperate to hang on to power. They said he cannot possibly form a government of independent experts. Unlike his predecessor, Hassan Diab, however, Adib got the backing of all major political factions on both sides of the Lebanese divide. He was nominated both by former Prime Minister Saad Hariri and other Sunni leaders, as well as by the Hezbollah party and its allies.