TUNIS: In his first interview after being appointed Lebanon’s prime minister-designate and tasked with forming a government, Najib Mikati promised the Lebanese people he will “tell the truth about everything.”
Mikati won the backing of the Lebanese parliament on Monday, receiving 72 votes out of a possible 118. He replaces Saad Hariri, who resigned as PM-designate on July 15 after nine months of failed negotiations with President Michel Aoun to form a government.
In an exclusive interview with Nayla Tueni, editor-in-chief of Lebanese newspaper An-Nahar, Mikati said that “Hariri’s patriotic feeling prompted him to step down.” He also stated that “there are international and American guarantees that Lebanon will not collapse.”
Mikati said that he wants “to form a government of specialists so that we can implement” a previously proposed French initiative that is “capable of helping Lebanon.”
As a result of fuel shortages, Lebanon has been hit but power outages recently, and Mikati stressed the need to “address the electricity problem.”
The country is also experiencing an ongoing financial crisis, during which the currency has lost most of its value. Mikati said that “banks are experiencing difficulties but work can be done to solve them.”
As for the challenge of forming a new government, almost a year after the previous authority resigned in the aftermath of the Aug. 4 explosion at Beirut’s port, Mikati said: “President Michel Aoun is betting on the government and wants to save the country. I told him that I will visit Baabda Palace as soon as (possible) to start forming the government.”
He added: “I have been assigned to continue (this task) and there is light at the end of the tunnel. I can carry out this task.
“I know my limits in the relationship between Hezbollah and Iran. We are with the Arab option, and we do not want Lebanon to be a conduit for conspiracy against any Arab country.”
Two Christian parliamentary groups refused to nominate Mikati during the consultations that led to his appointment, but he said he “understands their position and it is not personal.” He added that his relationship with them “is excellent and is based on respect.” He pointed out that the country is on the cusp of parliamentary elections and predicted that the groups “will support me from the outside because they are looking forward to four years in parliament.”
Talking about the Beirut explosion, Mikati said it “is a disaster that requires great efforts to be dealt with. We want to know the truth about who brought in the ammonium nitrate.” It was stored at the port without proper safety precautions and caused the disaster. He said that Judge Tarek Bitar, who is leading the official investigation into the blast, “is a man of conscience.”
In 2019 Mikati faced corruption charges relating to housing loans, but he told An-Nahar he “did not commit any infringements.”
A businessman who does not represent a particular political party or bloc, Mikati has served as PM on two previous occasions: on a caretaker basis for three months in 2005 and from June 2011 until February 2014.