BEIRUT — Lebanon is preparing to send a delegation to Iran to discuss the acquisition of free fuel to ease local power outages without being exposed to U.S. sanctions, two Lebanese government sources said Wednesday.
If the deal goes through, the fuel would be first delivered from Iran directly to the Lebanese state. Iran previously sent fuel its ally Hezbollah, a powerful armed movement that constitutes part of Lebanon's coalition government.
Lebanon has struggled with outages for decades but its economic meltdown since 2019 has drained state coffers, slowing down imports of fuel for government plants. Most of the country experiences just one or two hours of state-provided electricity per day. Households are forced to rely on subscriptions to private generators, the cost of which skyrocketed as global fuel prices spiked.
Iran's ambassador in Beirut, Mojtaba Amani, proposed an Iranian "gift" of fuel to the Lebanese state, the two government sources told Reuters on Wednesday. "We are working on this being a donation and not a purchase so that we can avoid sanctions," one of the sources said.
The United States set heavy sanctions on Iran's energy sector, which means any party engaging in a financial transaction with the sector could be subject to secondary sanctions.
A source within the Lebanese government said Amani had extended the offer from Iran to caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati, who provided the envoy with the specifications of fuel grade that would be needed to run Lebanese power plants.
"Based on that, Mikati asked Energy Minister Walid Fayad to prepare a technical delegation to discuss the technical details with officials in Tehran," the source said. The second source said the delegation would arrive in Tehran in the coming days.
On Wednesday evening, Fayad confirmed to al-Jadeed news channel that Mikati has tasked him with forming a delegation to head to Iran.
An Iranian official told Reuters that a delegation from Lebanon would be in Tehran shortly "to discuss various issues," without elaborating. "We have repeatedly expressed Iran's readiness to help Lebanon resolve its fuel crisis," the official said.
Last year, Iran sent fuel to Hezbollah, which is designated as a terrorist organization by the United States and some other Western nations. That fuel was shipped to Syria and then brought into Lebanon in trucks to avoid sanctions. The United States did not take any action in response. The U.S. Embassy had no immediate comment on Wednesday.
Hezbollah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah has repeatedly urged Lebanon's government to turn to Iran for fuel to ease its energy crisis.
Reporting by Laila Bassam and Parisa Hafezi; Writing by Maya Gebeily; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne