Khatami will not be talking
directly to Hizb Allah
Khatami’s three-day visit to Beirut is the first by an Iranian leader since Tehran’s 1979 Islamic revolution. His visit coincides with Washington’s latest efforts to pressure Iran and Syria into reining in Hizb Allah and Damascus-based Palestinian resistance groups.
Some commentators have said the visit is intended to open a dialogue with Hizb Allah in south Lebanon where its forces remain active against Israel. Washington called last week for Lebanon to deploy its national army on the border with Israel in order to bridge the power gap currently filled by Hizb Allah.
But Salem Mashkour, a Lebanon-based analyst, dismissed any connection between increased US pressure and Khatami’s visit, saying the Iranian leader’s trip had been planned months in advance.
“Anyway, Khatami isn’t the link between Iran and Hizb Allah: Ayat Allah Khamani’s office deals directly with Hizb Allah,” he said, referring to Tehran’s spiritual leader.
Tehran would not convey a message to Hizb Allah through the president but rather a foreign minister or other officials, said Mashkour.
“Hizb Allah’s activities depend on two things: Syria’s political support and Iran’s financial support. Both Syria and Iran believe, under the circumstances, they need to be more cooperative and flexible in dealing with US pressure,” he added.
Washington includes Hizb Allah on its list of 'terrorist organisations' and claims it undertakes acts of 'terrorism' beyond Lebanon's borders. The group denies these allegations.
Hizb Allah spearheaded a movement to oust Israeli forces from south Lebanon following a 22-year occupation that ended in May 2000. It is also an effective political force in Lebanon holding seats in parliament and running charities, schools and hospitals.
Syrian military support
Earlier this month, US secretary of state Colin Powell called on Syrian President Bashar Al Assad to rein in Hizb Allah and close the offices of Damascus-based Palestinian groups.
Asad's comments contrasted
sharply with those of Powell (left)
In an interview with the Newsweek magazine, Asad denied Iran supplied the Lebanese group with arms through Damascus. The Syrian leader said Damascus only provided Hizb Allah with “political support” because they were fighting against an occupation.
“As long as they don’t do any terrorist acts, we are supporting them,” he said.
Beirut and Hizb Allah do not consider Israel has withdrawn from Lebanon completely because the Jewish state continues to maintain forces in the Shebaa farms. Damascus and Beirut consider the area to be part of Lebanon while Israel and the United Nations argue it is part of Syria.
Asad also denied he told Powell Damascus would close the offices of Palestinian groups, after the US Secretary of State said the Syrian leader had offered assurances these offices would be closed.
Elsewhere, Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi criticised America for not working to improve relations with Iran.
Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi said Iran had "no problems with any country in the world (within) ... a specific framework." He did not elaborate.
"The problem is with the behaviour of the United States. They are not ready for such a relation," Kharrazi was quoted by the state-run daily Iran as saying. "All their actions and policies contradict our respected rules."
Iran and the United States have not had diplomatic relations since the 1979 takeover of the US Embassy in Tehran.
Iran's supreme ruler, Ayat Allah Ali Khamenei, opposes resuming ties with America, saying such an act is tantamount to treason.
Reformists, however, led by President Mohammad Khatami have called for rapprochement with the United States.