Lebanese and Jordanian PMs discuss energy needs

Mr Al Khasawneh said his government was committed and ready to support Lebanon where possible

Jordanian Prime Minister Bisher Al Khasawneh, left, speaks to reporters after meeting Lebanese premier Najib Mikati in Beirut, Lebanon, on Thursday, September 30, 2021. AP
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Jordan is committed to help Lebanon resolve its power crisis and meet its energy needs, Jordan's prime minister said on Thursday during a visit to Beirut.

The visit was the first by a senior foreign government official to Beirut since Najib Mikati’s Cabinet assumed its duties after a year of political paralysis that accelerated the country's financial meltdown.

“We have an interest in supporting Lebanon and preserving its stability, and we will not be late in securing its needs," Bisher Al Khasawneh told reporters after meeting the Lebanese prime minister.

The two officials discussed potential agreements to help energy-starved Lebanon meet its electricity needs, Mr Al Khasawneh said.

"We discussed the issue of importing gas and electricity to deal with the energy crisis, and efforts that are currently under way with our brothers to secure [Lebanon’s] needs from Jordan and a number of agreements that need to be ratified.”

Mr Mikati said discussions focused on efforts to import Egyptian gas and supply Lebanon with electricity from Jordan through Syria.

“We want agreements that are beneficial to the Lebanese and Jordanian peoples, rather than fictitious deals.”

Mr Mikati said the energy minister will pursue discussions with his Jordanian counterpart in this regard.

Jordan fully reopened its main border crossing with Syria on Wednesday in a move that experts say could signal efforts to bring Syria back into the Arab fold.

The US, which has suspended its diplomatic presence in Syria in 2012, has agreed to help Lebanon secure electricity, President Michel Aoun’s office said this month, implying Washington was ready to waive sanctions that prohibit official transactions with Syria.

Mr Al Khasawneh, who also met Mr Aoun on Thursday, said Jordan was ready and committed to supporting Lebanon.

"President Aoun asked me to deliver a written letter addressed to HE King Abdallah," Mr Al Khasawneh told reporters before leaving the presidential palace to meet Speaker Nabih Berri.

Jordan had hosted a meeting this month in Amman along with the Egyptian, Syrian and Lebanese energy ministers to discuss Lebanon’s energy needs. The meeting followed a visit by a Lebanese delegation led by former deputy prime minister Zeina Akar to Damascus for the same purpose.

Damascus has said it was willing to help Lebanon import electricity to cover its power deficit.

Lebanon’s electricity problems have intensified in recent months as the state-owned power company further rationed its supply over fuel shortages.

The shortages have been sparked by the Central Bank’s decision to lift subsidies on fuel imports among other vital commodities to protect its dwindling foreign currency reserves.

On Wednesday, the government decided to ask the Central Bank to provide a $100 million loan to the state power company to boost its electricity supply, Energy Minister Walid Fayyad said. Electricity du Liban has been providing only up to four hours of power daily across many parts of the country.

Mr Fayyad said the government was seeking to boost power supply before deciding on raising electricity tariffs. The state-owned company has been operating at a loss for nearly two decades, selling electricity below production costs.

Private generators that used to make up for state power rationing have also cut their electricity supply because of diesel shortages that risked shutting down hospitals, schools and other vital infrastructure.

The shortages and deteriorating living conditions have sparked violence across the country as consumers compete for access to petrol and diesel.

The World Bank described Lebanon’s crisis as one of the most severe globally since the 1850s. The financial meltdown has plunged more than half the population into poverty with the local currency losing over 90 per cent of its value against the dollar and commercial banks denying depositors access to the bulk of their savings.

Updated: October 04, 2021, 10:56 AM