BEIRUT (Reuters) – Prime Minister-designate Fouad Siniora said on Wednesday he was making progress in efforts to form Lebanon’s first government since Syrian troops withdrew from the country. The announcement of the new government has been delayed by demands and counter-demands over cabinet portfolios from Siniora’s anti-Syrian friends and powerful allies of Damascus.”I believe we are making progress toward forming this government,” Siniora said after a meeting with President Emile Lahoud, a close Syria ally. Political sources familiar with the talks said reaching an agreement between various political factions still required more time, ruling out an imminent breakthrough.”Progress is slow. We are getting there but more time is needed to dismantle all hurdles,” one source said.One stumbling block is a demand by a Shi’ite Muslim alliance loyal to Syria to appoint a Shi’ite foreign minister. Hizbollah group, which swept the Shi’ite Muslim vote in last month’s elections to win 14 parliament seats, will join the cabinet for the first time and asked Siniora for two ministerial posts.While Siniora, a Sunni, had agreed to this but has rejected demands by Hizbollah and allied Amal group over the Foreign Ministry. He held talks with Hizbollah chief Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah on Tuesday. CHRISTIAN REPRESENTATION Political sources say Siniora wants to give the portfolio to former Foreign Minister Fouad Boutrous, a Christian.

The Foreign Ministry, currently run by a Shi’ite, is likely to play an important role in shaping ties with Damascus after Syrian troops ended their 29-year military presence in Lebanon in April.

It also oversees work with the United Nations to implement a Security Council resolution demanding the disarming of Hizbollah guerrillas.

Siniora’s talks with Lahoud, a political foe, were the first over the government since the president bowed to an overwhelming parliamentary majority last week and appointed Siniora.

While Lahoud must respect the will of the parliament, he has the power to reject Siniora’s cabinet line-up or demand more of his own allies get a role.

A political source said talks between the two were positive, adding that Lahoud, a Maronite Christian, made no demands but asked Siniora to make sure Christians were well-represented.

Lebanon was plunged into its worst crisis since the 1975-1990 civil war with the Feb. 14 killing of former Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri. His killing has been followed by a series of assassinations and bomb attacks in and around Beirut.