By Roula Khalaf (Financial Time)  Lebanon’s new prime minister is striking a conciliatory tone towards Syria, pledging strong relations in the hope of resolving a border crisis that has led to a virtual closure of traffic to Lebanese trade. Fouad Siniora, picked by the anti-Syrian parliamentary majority that emerged after the April departure of Syrian troops from Lebanon, is expected to travel to Damascus on Thursday after the expected confirmation of his government by parliament. In an interview with the Financial Times, the 62-year-old Mr Siniora said he would not wait until the results of a UN probe into the February assassination of Rafiq Hariri, the former Lebanese premier, before restoring ties with Syria. Damascus’ alleged role in the killing is being investigated.

He has now formed a government in which his allies have a majority. Still, if navigating through Lebanon’s sectarian and political divide was a constant battle for the late Hariri, Mr Siniora’s task is likely to prove even harder.

Syria may be officially out of Lebanon yet its presence is still felt through powerful allies like Emile Lahoud, the Christian Maronite president, and Nabil Berri, the speaker of parliament (a post reserved for Shia parties, which are pro-Syrian).

The departure of Syrian troops dealt a blow to the network of Syrian intelligence and security officers who were benefiting from corruption in Lebanon. But Damascus has shown that it can still exert economic pressure on its smaller neighbour.

Earlier this month it suddenly imposed tight border controls, citing concerns over weapons smuggling from Lebanon. This in effect closed down the only land route for Lebanese trade to other Arab countries.

Meanwhile attacks targeting political figures and economic symbols have continued, provoking accusations in Beirut that they are part of a Syrian-inspired destabilisation drive. Concerns have also emerged about new weapons supplies received by radical groups based in the Palestinian camps, a no-go zone for the Lebanese army.

Already saddled by a $36bn (€27.5bn, £21bn) debt, Lebanon’s economy has suffered from the political and security crisis, with lower tourism revenues this year and, according to Mr Siniora, little or no economic growth since February.

Re-establishing relations with Syria is only one of the challenges facing Mr Siniora. The parliamentary elections, which ended in June, rekindled sectarian tensions in the country and produced a more radical leadership for the Christian minority.

Meanwhile international demands for the disarmament of Hizbollah, the militant Shia movement, has fuelled unease between the Shia and other communities.

The new government is hoping to address the disarmament required by UN resolution 1559 through an internal dialogue. Hizbollah has joined Mr Siniora’s government, nominating two ministers; a move that has hastened the party’s integration into Lebanese politics but which also gives it greater leverage over decision-making.

Mr Siniora’s other priorities will be to push through reform of security services, which until recently answered to Damascus, and to implement economic restructuring that would help attract foreign assistance. But under Lebanon’s sectarian-based system, the pro-Syrian president has important powers and could still block government moves.

“I’ve heard from him [the president] a great deal of commitment to co-operate. The test is in the implementation,” Mr Siniora said.