Cash-strapped Belarus, which is tapping credit sources abroad to help it repay accumulated foreign debt, said yesterday Iran had agreed in principle to give it a $400 million (Dh1,469 million) loan as it headed into talks with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) on aid.
The ex-Soviet republic is struggling with a financial crisis which has led to a 60 per cent devaluation in its rouble currency this year and driving huge rises in prices for staple goods, including food.
In efforts to plug holes in its balance-of-payments, Belarus has already raised an $800 million (Dh2,938 million) in credit from a Russia-led anti-crisis fund and has turned to the IMF and Russia's Sberbank for further help.
National Bank chief Nadezhda Yermakova said agreement in principle had now been reached with Iran for a credit line.
"The issue of about $400 million credit from Iran is being considered. A decision in principle has already been made by the Iranian side," Yermakova was quoted as saying by the Belarus state news agency BelTA.
She gave no details on the terms of the loan or the level of interest payments.
Belarus, which faces a high repayment schedule in 2012 and 2013 on old foreign debt, is hoping for up to $7 billion (Dh25.7 billion) from the IMF under a new arrangement.
An IMF mission is due to arrive in Minsk today for a review of economic and structural reforms which it has urged the country to take.
"The mission will begin its work tomorrow. This work might lead to a discussion of a new programme… Its volume may amount to up to $7 billion," deputy finance minister Vladimir Amarin told journalists yesterday.
Officials had previously put the amount they could seek from the Fund at up to $8 billion (Dh29 billion.)
Earlier, a survey conducted in Belarus showed that the financial crisis is weighing on the popularity of President Alexander Lukashenko, the authoritarian leader who has been in power since 1994.
The survey, by the Independent Institute for Social-Economic and Political Research, showed that only 20.5 per cent would be prepared to vote for his re-election now compared to the 53 per cent recorded immediately after he won a fourth term in power in December. Lukashenko's record on human rights has been a deal-breaker for many Western institutions on crediting Belarus in the past.