BEIRUT – Lebanese Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri said on Wednesday he had held an “excellent” meeting with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and expected to sign economic deals with Riyadh soon.
Hariri also urged the quick formation of a government after a parliamentary election taking place on May 6, to ensure the continuation of economic reforms linked to unlocking billions of dollars of international financing pledged at a Paris conference last week.
“We will see very soon certain agreements that will be signed with Saudi Arabia vis-a-vis different sectors of the economy, whether it is industry, and tourism and services,” he told a news conference, without giving further details.
“God willing in the coming few weeks this is what we are trying to work towards,” said Hariri, who posted a photo of himself together with bin Salman and French President Emmanuel Macron in Paris late on Tuesday.
Lebanon’s relations with Saudi Arabia plunged into crisis in November, when Hariri abruptly resigned from the premiership during a visit to the kingdom.
Lebanese officials said at the time that Saudi Arabia had forced him to step down, which Riyadh denied. Hariri retracted his resignation after returning to Lebanon weeks later, following French intervention.
Lebanon won pledges exceeding $11 billion at the Paris conference on Friday.
Lebanon, which has been battered by seven years of war in neighbouring Syria and is hosting more than a million Syrian refugees, is seeking international support to overhaul its infrastructure and lift dwindling economic growth.
Donors in turn want to see Lebanon commit to long-stalled reforms that Hariri said were essential regardless of international donors’ demands. The country has one of the highest debt-to-GDP ratios in the world.
Saroj Kumar Jha, World Bank regional director for Lebanon, Iraq, Syria, Jordan and Iran, on Wednesday said the bank would work with the government to adopt reforms with a clear timeline and benchmarks.
“I’m very optimistic about it from what I’ve heard from the leaders from this country and also from the presentations made by the leadership in the Paris conference and the response from the global leaders who came,” he told reporters in Beirut.
The World Bank will increase its commitment in Lebanon to $4 billion over the next five years from $3 billion in the last five years, he said.
(Writing by Tom Perry; Editing by Alison Williams and John Stonestreet)