Lebanon's parliament speaker Tuesday announced the postponement of the latest scheduled session to elect a state president amid continuing political deadlock.
Nabih Berri, the speaker and opposition leader, made the annoucement on state television but reiterated an invitation to Lebanon's rival factions to hold talks on the formation of a national unity government and a new electoral law under his auspices.
"If they agree to dialogue, together we will set a date for the vote," Berri said, adding that he would set the date for a new session himself if he did not get a positive response to his appeal.
The 18th attempt to elect a president was postponed despite the presence in parliament of a number of MPs from the rival groupings, which Berri said did not reach the requisite two-thirds quorom to hold the vote.
Tuesday's session had not in any case been expected to lead to a breakthrough in the 16-month standoff.
Before the announcement, Berri had held a closed door meeting with Walid Jumblatt, a leader in the ruling coalition.
"We hope for a positive response to Berri's initiative, and if they don't want the dialogue, they should tell us what our other options are," said Ali Bazzi, an MP of Berri's Amal party.
However, majority lawmaker and telecommunications minister Marwan Hamadeh told AFP after Tuesday's announcement that "this is not an invitation to dialogue, it is setting preconditions for the presidency....this invitation is a masquerade."
The coalition have previously rejected Berri's offer to host talks saying that his being a member of the opposition disqualifies him from being a mediator.
Lebanon is mired in its worst political crisis since the end of its 1975-1990 civil war pitting the anti-Syrian ruling coalition against the Hezbollah-led opposition backed by Syria and Iran.
The country has been without a president since late November when the pro-Syrian Emile Lahoud stepped down at the end of his mandate.
The parliamentary majority, backed by the West and most Arab states, is demanding the immediate and unconditional election of consensus candidate and army chief Michel Sleiman.
Hezbollah MP Nawwar al-Sahli reiterated the opposition's demand for a "package" deal to go with Sleiman's election.
"We have told the majority that if they want the election of a president to come to agree to hold a dialogue to discuss the government and the electoral law," Sahli told journalists.