Lebanese PM expects progress in talks with IMF over meltdown

Lebanese PM expects progress in talks with IMF over meltdown

BEIRUT (AP): Talks between the Lebanese government and the International Monetary Fund over an economic recovery plan should make progress in the next two weeks, Prime Minister Najib Mikati said Saturday.

Speaking to reporters in Qatar, where he is attending the Doha Forum, Mikati said an IMF delegation will resume talks with the government in Beirut on Tuesday over the country’s economic meltdown that began more than two years ago.

Talks between Lebanon and the IMF began in May 2020, then stopped for months amid a political deadlock in the small country. They resumed after Mikati took office in September but no breakthrough has been made since.

A main sticking point in the talks has been estimating the amount of financial losses. But late last year, Deputy Prime Minister Saadeh Shami, who is heading the talks with the IMF, put the losses of the financial sector at $69 billion.

“Hopefully it’s going to take, I guess, two weeks and by the end of the two weeks we can see the light differently,” Mikati said in English about the next round of talks. He added that Lebanon has no other option but to reach an agreement with the IMF.

Mikati said Lebanon’s economic meltdown, described by the World Bank as one of the worst the world has witnessed since the 1850s, has been made worse by the war in Ukraine.

Mikati refused to answer a question about corruption charges filed by a judge against the country’s central bank Gov. Riad Salameh, saying it was “not the right place to talk about what’s going on domestically.” But he said Salameh’s case will be solved “the right legal way.” He did not elaborate.

Mikati said the war between Russia and Ukraine has become “a new source of pressure” on small countries. He said Lebanon imports all its wheat from Russia and Ukraine. He said the government is trying to guarantee food security for people in Lebanon in the coming year.

Lebanon’s economic crisis that began in October 2019 is rooted in decades of corruption and mismanagement. It has left three-quarters of the population of 6 million people, including 1 million Syrian refugees, in poverty. The Lebanese pound has lost more than 90% of its value.

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