Has Iran bartered Hizbullah with US for Iraq-based Iranian opposition group?
Analysts speaking to Al Bawaba assessed that the main reason behind the recent Lebanese visit of Iranian president, Mohammad Khatami, was to pressure and curb the Lebanese Hizbullah in its struggle with Israel. The visit was also believed to have come following a deal Iran has struck with the US under which the latter will rein in the Iranian rebel group, Mujahideen Khalq, which useed Iraq as a base for its attacks against Iran.
According to analysts, Khatami was in Lebanon to deliver a message to Hizbullah using diplomacy, effectively communicating to them that the era of ‘armed struggle’ has now passed, and that they should be prepared for the anticipated and drastic changes the region will undergo.
The timing of the visit has come at a sensitive and critical stage during which Iran and its ally Syria, which has unparalleled influence in Lebanon, are facing strong US pressure to stop their backing of Hizbullah. This has come in view of the prevailing conditions in the region following the ouster of Saddam Hussein and his regime, US military occupation of Iraq and the US declaration of the ‘roadmap’.
Lebanese journalist and analyst Jubran Twaini said it was very likely that Khatami has asked Hizbullah to restrict their activities on the border with Israel, in accordance with a possible deal that might have been reached between Tehran and Washington.
“I believe Khatami has asked Hizbullah to freeze their activities on the border [with Israel] and wait till things become clearer, especially between the US, Syria and the region as a whole in the wake of the war on Iraq,” Twaini told Al Bawaba.
Twaini went on to say, “I do not rule out the possibility of a deal. The whole region is now open to all kinds of bargains, schemes and counter schemes, proposals and counter proposals.”
Asked about the reason behind the change in the Iranian attitude, which has always strongly resisted all sorts of American pressure, analysts believe Iran has still not responded to American pressure, but rather to temptations that have a direct impact on its national security.
“For the first time in a long time, Iran has the opportunity to get rid of the ‘Mujahideen Khalq’ members, who, along with their strikes against Iran from their base in Iraq, have been a constant headache for the Islamic Republic,” one Syrian analyst said, speaking to Al Bawaba on anonymity. “With US control over Iraq, the US can broker a deal with the Iranians much more easily,” he added.
The first US signal came when a ceasefire agreement was reached between the US and the heavily armed Iranian opposition group on April 11, 2003. The agreement, which did not stipulate that the group relinquish their arms, did however create concern amongst Iranian officials, who feared the US may use the rebel group at any time against Iran, particularly in view of the harsh criticism against Tehran by the Bush administration’s hawks and as Iran is also one of the ‘member’ states of the US ‘axis of evil’.
The US, however, has recently changed its position towards ‘Mujahideen Khalq’ when it announced an ultimatum to the rebel group to relinquish all arms, significant weaponry and equipment within seven days and turn themselves over for detention. Members of the organization, which was backed by Saddam Hussein’s former regime, have also agreed to be ‘interviewed’ by US intelligence officials.
Synchronous with this announcement, US sources have said that there have been direct negotiations between Iranian and US officials in Geneva about matters concerning Afghanistan, Iraq and the Middle East. The American secretary of state Colin Powell has also confirmed these reports, however did not describe them as the beginning of the ‘resumption’ of official relations between the two countries.
American officials confirmed that the US-Iranian talks also addressed the issue of the Lebanese Hizbullah, which the US considers a terrorist group.
It is noteworthy to mention that Hizbullah was established in 1982 (due to the Israeli occupation of Lebanon) with backing from the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, and has since then evolved into a political party with representatives in the Lebanese parliament.
In his approach to Hizbullah, it is believed that Khatami used persuasion rather than pressure, as the group has its strong connections with the top Iranian leader, Ali Khameini, leader of the army and foreign relations and an adamant supporter of armed resistance against Israel.
Nevertheless, following the meeting with Hizbullah chief, President Khatami reaffirmed his country's support of Lebanon and its anti-Israel stance and called Hizbullah as a genuine independent Lebanese group, and said: "Occupation of (others') land, evacuation of its residents and suppression of the people uprising for freedom is the worst forms of terrorism."
For their part, the Americans were indeed watching Khatami’s visit with both enthusiasm and concern. They were fully aware of the purpose of the visit and would appreciate any success on Khatami’s part in persuading Hizbullah to disarm, which, as analysts believe, will be considered by the US an Iranian commitment to any agreement between the two sides. (Albawaba.com)
© 2003 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com)