BEIRUT, Lebanon – Lebanon's caretaker prime minister postponed a widely anticipated announcement he is giving up efforts to form a new Cabinet, saying Wednesday he will quit only after political consultations later this week.
Prime Minister Omar Karami's (search) statement came a day after Syria (search) promised for the first time to withdraw its troops completely from Lebanon before general elections scheduled to take place there starting next month. The anti-Syrian opposition accused authorities of stalling, saying they want neither a new Cabinet nor parliamentary elections.
"I made a promise that if I reach a dead end, I will go back to Ein Tineh Gathering," Karami said, referring to pro-government factions in remarks after meeting President Emile Lahoud. "And I have informed the president that after Ein Tineh's meeting I will call his excellency to officially inform him of my decision to step down."
Karami's intention to bow out followed a deadlock over forming the government, which must be completed before parliamentary elections. Elections must be held before the current legislature's mandate expires May 31, and the opposition -- which is expected to win -- is eager to see them held on time.
"It's clear they don't want a new Cabinet and they don't want elections," said Nayla Mouawad, a prominent opposition member and widow of President Rene Mouawad, who was killed in a 1989 car bombing.
If Karami stalls, "he will be the loser," she added.
Lebanon has been in political crisis since the Feb. 14 assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri (search) in a bomb blast. His death, which the opposition blamed on Syria and its allies in Lebanon, prompted giant street protests that forced the government at the time, led by Karami, to resign Feb. 28.
Syria and the Lebanese government have denied any role in the killing. In a slap to the opposition, pro-Syrian Lahoud brought back Karami to form a new government March 10.
Karami sought to form a national unity government that included opposition members because he maintained that the conditions in the country required all parties to shoulder their responsibilities. But critics said that aimed only to give legitimacy to a Cabinet that would still be dominated by Syria's allies, and Karami was proposing it only to hold up the process and delay elections the leadership fears it will lose.
Deputy parliament speaker Michel Murr said organizing an election would take at least a month.
On Tuesday, Syrian Foreign Minister Farouk al-Sharaa promised in a letter to U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan and the Security Council that Syria would withdraw all troops from Lebanon before the elections, but he did not mention the U.N.-demanded pullout of its intelligence operatives.
The Security Council passed its resolution to that effect last year.
Syria sent troops to its smaller neighbor in 1976 to help quell what was then a year-old civil war, but the troops remained after the war ended in 1990. At times, it has had as many as 40,000 troops in Lebanon, with the number now at its lowest since the war ended, about 8,000.
Damascus is seen as pulling the strings in Lebanese politics -- most recently in pressing for a constitutional amendment to allow a second term for Lahoud.