Lebanon needs financial assistance from all potential sources to tide over the deepening crisis. But can France deliver on its promises? File picture of soldiers scuffling with anti-government protesters blocking a road leading to the parliament building. Image Credit: AP

Riyadh (Reuters): France is ready to support Lebanon financially - bilaterally or multilaterally - its finance minister said, warning against mixing economic recovery in the small Mediterranean state with US-led efforts to counter Iran in the region.

“France always stands ready to help Lebanon. It has always been the case in the past and it will be the case in the future...,” Bruno Le Maire said at the end of a meeting of finance officials from the Group of 20 (G20) major economies. “If there is any help required from Lebanon, France will be there.”

Lebanon’s long-brewing economic crisis spiralled last year as the country’s capital inflows slowed and protests erupted against the ruling elite.

A permanent crisis

As the crisis deepens, hitting ordinary Lebanese hard, there is no sign of foreign aid. Western and Gulf states that helped in the past have made clear that any support hinges on Beirut implementing long-delayed reforms to address root causes such as state corruption and bad governance.

Saudi Arabia’s finance minister said the kingdom was in contact with allies and international bodies to coordinate any support for Lebanon on the basis of economic reforms proposed by Beirut.

US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said Washington was keeping a close eye on the situation. “It’s something we’re monitoring both the political and economic issues there,” he said. “Our interest is in the people of Lebanon. We want there to be safe environment where they can succeed economically and live as they want to.”

An International Monetary Fund (IMF) team has discussed all possible options in recent meetings with Lebanese officials, who are seeking technical advice for tackling the crisis as Beirut mulls a plan for dealing with fast-approaching debt payments.

Immediate intervention needed

Le Maire said decisions by Lebanon’s government were urgently needed to improve the situation on the ground. “We want to move in the official fora and we think that the IMF might have a role to play at one stage, but it’s up to the Lebanese government to decide,” he said. “But if there is any need for help, either bilateral or multilateral, we stand ready to help.”

Lebanon’s currency has slumped by roughly 60 per cent on a parallel market, dollars have become scarce, prices have been hiked and thousands of jobs have been shed.