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Iran's Offer To Support Lebanese Economy Met With Skepticism


Lebanese President Michel Aoun meeting with the Iranian Parliament Speaker Ali Larijani. February 17, 2020
Beirut, Feb 17, 2020 (AFP) -

Iran is ready to help Lebanon's ailing economy, the speaker of its parliament was quoted as saying Monday during a visit to Beirut.

Lebanon is going through its worst crisis in decades as a debt burden combined with slowing capital flows bring the small country to the brink of collapse.

Iranian speaker Ali Larijani, on the first visit by an Iranian official since the new Lebanese government was approved last week, said Tehran was willing to help.

"We wish the new government much success. We are ready to provide our assistance to improve the economic situation," he said, according to the Lebanese state news agency.

The new Lebanese government was born after weeks of negotiations over its line-up, including with the Hezbollah group that is Tehran's main proxy outside of Iran.

Tehran has already expressed willingness to assist Lebanon's economy, including by supporting the moribund electricity sector.

The lack of electricity and other basic services was one of the reasons why thousands of people of all ages, sects and regions took the streets in mid-October to demand the wholesale removal of a political elite they see as corrupt and incompetent.

Offers of support from Iran -- itself in a difficult economic situation due to Western sanctions -- are met with suspicion among Lebanon's deeply divided ruling class.

"Iran's cash can help resolve the crisis of a party but not that of a country," Saad Hariri, who resigned as prime minister under pressure from the street last year, said on Friday.

Hezbollah, which has a powerful militia but also a dominant political wing, is blamed for the 2005 assassination of Hariri's father Rafik, a charismatic former premier.

To rescue the country's economy, the new government has requested the advice of the International Monetary Fund on what measures to take.

The next major date in Lebanon's economic calendar is March 9, when a $1.2 billion Eurobond is due to mature.

Lebanon can either try to restructure its debt, repay the Eurobond -- but the cash-strapped state can scarcely afford to -- or default on its debt.

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