Lebanon under 'financial siege' from international powers, Bassil says

Former foreign minister says he supports talks with International Monetary Fund

FILE PHOTO: Lebanon's caretaker Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil is seen after a news conference in Beirut, Lebanon December 12, 2019. REUTERS/Mohamed Azakir/File Photo
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Lebanon is facing a "financial siege" from foreign countries but mistakes by the state also contributed to the country's economic meltdown, its former foreign minister said on Tuesday.

Gebran Bassil is also leader of Lebanon’s Free Patriotic Movement and in 2015 took over the position that was occupied by the party's founder and Lebanese President, Michel Aoun.

Mr Bassil, an ally of the Iran-backed group Hezbollah, said he supported talks with the International Monetary Fund and hoped they would pressure the state into reforms.

But he said Lebanon was running out of time and any foreign aid could not come at the price of sovereignty.

Talks with the IMF were put on hold last week after a dispute on the Lebanese side over the scale of losses in the financial system.

Lebanon must also introduce reforms to address the root causes of the crisis, which is regarded as the biggest threat to Lebanon's stability since the 1975-1990 civil war.

Finance Minister Ghazi Wazni has said he would remain in contact with the IMF until talks resumed.

The government of Prime Minister Hassan Diab, which is backed by Mr Bassil and Hezbollah, has yet to embark on serious reforms sought by donors including the US and France.

They say Beirut must move against state waste and corruption before any aid is released.

"What we are subjected to is an economic, financial and political siege," Mr Bassil told Reuters.

"This doesn't pardon the state and the Lebanese from their mistakes ... at the forefront of them, corruption.

"When there is a desire to help Lebanon, tomorrow the gates will be opened.

"And when there are great powers blocking the gates, Lebanon does not have the capacity to open them."

"The absolute priority is how to keep Lebanon away from anarchy and strife."

Lebanese must also be protected from extreme poverty, said Mr Bassil, a son-in-law of Mr Aoun.

Hezbollah is classified as a terrorist group by the US. The group's influence in state affairs has grown since it won a parliamentary majority with its allies in 2018.

Opponents say the alliance forged by Mr Aoun and Mr Bassil with the heavily armed Hezbollah has provided political cover for its arsenal.

Mr Bassil warned of the risk of "an international game" unfolding to weaken Lebanon, or "a party in Lebanon such as Hezbollah".

"Syria must be a lesson for all," he said. "It would be a shame to take Lebanon on the path to destruction once again."