Hariri in Paris in Bid to Overcome Lebanon’s Economic Crisis
Lebanon’s Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri arrived in Paris late Monday to attend what was described as an “unprecedented” meeting with President Jacques Chirac, as well as World Bank and European Union officials in a bid to overcome Lebanon’s economic crisis, reported the Daily Star newspaper.
Before leaving Beirut for Paris, Hariri paid a short visit to Damascus, where he held talks with his Syrian counterpart, Mustafa Miro.
The talks discussed bilateral ties between the two countries and ways of boosting and developing them in all domains “to serve the joint interest of two countries and the Arab Nation,” said the Syrian News Agency (SANA) Monday.
According to the Star, the Damascus talks had been scheduled before Hariri received an invitation from the French president to attend a financial meeting in Paris on Tuesday.
“Hariri’s meeting in Paris was unprecedented with regard to mobilizing the international players for consultation on finding basic solutions to help Lebanon,” a Lebanese official told the paper.
In addition to Chirac and Hariri, the meeting will be attended by World Bank president James Wolfensohn and EU Commission President Romano Prodi.
Hariri plans to discuss ways to “ease Lebanon’s mounting public debt,” Lebanese diplomats in Paris told the paper.
Lebanon’s state debt stands at $25 billion, representing 147 percent of the country’s GDP.
Debt servicing payments account for 44 percent of the $6.6 billion budget for 2001, and exceed revenues, added the Daily Star.
In seeking help from the World Bank and EU, Hariri is banking on securing immediate loans of $3 billion at favorable interest rates.
But officials in Paris told the paper they doubt Hariri will leave France with the loans he needed, adding that the World Bank and EU are more likely to look at ways to set up a guarantee fund for Lebanon’s debt that would lead to a gradual reduction in rates for future loans.
After leaving Paris on Wednesday, Hariri will visit Amman for talks with King Abdullah and senior Jordanian officials on bilateral ties and developments in the Middle East peace process following the election of Israeli right-wing leader Ariel Sharon as prime minister, said reports. The talks will also touch on a current regional tour by US Secretary of State Colin Powell.
“The premier will be accompanied by five ministers on the Amman visit, during which a free-trade agreement will be signed with Jordan,” Lebanon’s ambassador to Amman, Adib Alamuddin, told the paper – Albawaba.com