Lebanon’s president in Qatar for talks over Gulf crisis

BEIRUT (AP) — Lebanon’s president Monday discussed his country’s economic meltdown and an unprecedented diplomatic crisis between Beirut and Persian Gulf nations with the Emir of Qatar. The emir promised to help the small country ease its problems.

The meeting between President Michel Aoun and Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani came shortly after the Lebanese leader arrived in the Qatari capital of Doha for the opening ceremony of an Arab soccer tournament and for talks on the crisis with Gulf nations.

Lebanon is sinking deeper into an economic crisis, the worst in its modern history. The country’s financial meltdown, coupled with multiple other crises, has plunged more than three quarters of the nation’s population of 6 million, including a million Syrian refugees, into poverty.

The two leaders discussed mutual relations and regional and international affairs, Qatar’s state news agency said.

The news outlet did not elaborate but Aoun’s office said the two leaders agreed that Arab countries should stand by Lebanon and “overcome any flaws that might face these relations.” It was an apparent reference to the crisis between Lebanon and Gulf states.

Aoun has repeatedly said that Lebanon wants excellent relations with Saudi Arabia, which labels Hezbollah as a terrorist organization. Aoun is a political ally of the Shiite militant group.

Last month, Saudi Arabia — a traditional backer of Lebanon — withdrew its ambassador from Beirut and asked the Lebanese envoy to leave following televised comments by George Kordahi, Lebanon’s information minister. Kordahi said the war in Yemen was futile and called it an aggression by the Saudi-led coalition.

Yemen’s war began with the 2014 takeover of Sanaa by the Houthi rebels, who control much of the country’s north. The Saudi-led coalition entered the war the following year, determined to restore the internationally recognized government and oust the rebels.

Aoun told Qatar’s Al-Raya daily that in face-to-face meetings he will call on Sheikh Tamim to invest in the reconstruction of Beirut’s port, which was destroyed last year in a massive explosion. Aoun also said he would seek investment in other infrastructure projects, including electricity, which is cut for much of the day in Lebanon.

Aoun’s office quoted Sheikh Tamim as saying during the meeting that Qatar is ready to help Lebanon in all fields, adding that the emir will send Qatar’s foreign minister to Lebanon soon for that reason.

Qatar has one of the largest natural gas reserves in the world and has been a major investor in Lebanon in the past.

Many countries have refused to invest in Lebanon or offer assistance to its government before it implements major reforms to fight the corruption and mismanagement that sparked the economic meltdown in 2019.

On Tuesday, Aoun will attend the opening ceremony of the FIFA Arab Cup in which 16 teams will compete. The 19-day tournament is an opportunity for the world to see Qatar’s new stadiums that will host the World Cup next year.

Meanwhile, scores of protesters blocked major roads in Lebanon on Monday to express anger at the country’s political class for the worsening economic crisis and harsh living conditions.

The road closures, sealed off with burning tires, were mainly in the capital Beirut, the northern city of Tripoli, the southern port city of Sidon and the eastern Bekaa Valley.

Lebanon’s economic crisis deteriorated in recent weeks with the Lebanese pound hitting a new low of 25,800 to the U.S. dollar, eradicating the purchasing power of most of the country’s residents, who get paid in pounds. The minimum monthly wage is 675,000 pounds or ($27).

In this photo released by Lebanese government, Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, right, meets with Lebanese President Michel Aoun, in Doha, Qatar, Monday, Nov 29, 2021. Aoun arrived in Qatar Monday for the opening ceremony of an Arab soccer tournament amid – and for talks on an precedented diplomatic crisis between Beirut and oil-rich Gulf nations. (Dalati Nohra/Lebanese Official Government via AP)

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