Iranian FM In Lebanon for Talks after Israeli Pullout

Published May 25th, 2000 - 02:00 GMT

Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharazi arrived here Thursday for talks and a visit to the Lebanese-Israeli border area following Israel's pullout from Lebanon in the face of a campaign by Hizbollah fighters. 

Kharazi, due in Damascus on Friday, was expected to meet President Emile Lahoud, parliamentary speaker Nabih Berri and Prime Minister Salim Hoss, in the latest flurry of visits between Lebanese and Iranian leaders. 

After making a brief statement to the press he left for the village of Bent Jbail, just three kilometers (1.5 miles) from the Israeli frontier. 

It is the first visit to south Lebanon by a top official from the Islamic republic of Iran, founded in 1979 a year after the occupation began. 

Kharazi said he had come to "take part in the celebrations for the victory of the Lebanese people over the Israeli enemy" and stressed the need for harmony among Christians and Muslims in the south. 

"The Lebanese people achieved its victory through unity, and it must preserve unity between the various religious faiths," he said. 

Iran, he promised, would pursue "its efforts to consolidate this solidarity." 

Unconfirmed reports Wednesday said Kharazi may also hold talks with the head of the Hezbollah movement, Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah.  

Hezbollah fighters swept through south Lebanon after the hasty Israeli withdrawal but have repeatedly insisted they have no plans to control the region, saying that is the responsibility of the Lebanese government. 

Kharazi will head for Damascus on Friday for talks with Syrian leaders, the Iranian foreign ministry said. 

There has been intense speculation as to whether Hizbollah will maintain the armed pressure on Israel despite Wednesday's withdrawal. 

The Israeli government tersely warned Syria Wednesday that it would strike at its positions in Lebanon if Israeli soil came under attack. 

The extent of the financial and military support to Hizbollah is unknown, but media reports in Israel earlier this year suggested Iran had been supplying the organization with increasingly sophisticated weapons as the attacks on Israeli forces escalated. 

The weapons may have included some of the 1,500 US-made wire-guided anti-tank missiles that Israel supplied to Tehran in the Irangate scandal in the mid-1980s, Israeli public television said in February. 

Kharazi dismissed the report as a lie. 

The talks coincide with a mission to the Middle East by UN special envoy Terje Roed-Larsen, who was to meet Lahoud and Hoss Thursday before a visit to Syria and Israel. 

Roed-Larsen's main goal is to obtain additional security guarantees from all sides involved in Israel's 22-year occupation of southern Lebanon, which ended early Wednesday. 

He will seek assurances from the Lebanese government that it will rapidly impose its authority on the volatile area, while the United States notably has said it is counting on the United Nations to stabilize the region. 

UN Secretary General Kofi Annan on Wednesday pledged to deploy UN peacekeeping troops throughout south Lebanon as soon as possible and has called for the force to be increased -- BEIRUT (AFP) 

© 2000 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com)

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