Iran's Zarif meets Lebanese leaders as senior US official visits Beirut
BEIRUT--Tehran insists on being strongly present in Lebanon after the massive blast at Beirut’s port, with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif visiting the Lebanese capital Friday, in conjunction with the visit of the US Assistant Secretary of State David Hale.
Soon after his arrival in Lebanon, Zarif, who will be holding meetings with senior Lebanese officials, said that only the Lebanese people and their representatives can decide the country’s future.
The blast at the Beirut’s port last week killed 172 people and prompted the government to resign.
Iran backs Lebanon’s powerful armed movement Hezbollah, which along with its allies helped form the outgoing government. The United States classifies Hezbollah as a terrorist group.
The Iranian foreign minister played the moral high ground while he checked on his country's interests in Lebanon.
“It is not humane to exploit the pain and suffering of the people for political goals,” Iran’s Zarif told a joint news conference with Lebanon’s caretaker foreign minister.
“We believe that the government and the people of Lebanon should decide on the future of Lebanon.”
Zarif was speaking after senior US and French officials met President Michel Aoun in a flurry of Western diplomacy that has focused on urging Lebanon to fight entrenched corruption and enact long-delayed reforms to unlock foreign financial aid needed to tackle an economic crisis.
Lebanese had been staging angry protests against a political elite blamed for the country’s many woes even before the August 4.blast, which injured 6,000, damaged swathes of the Mediterranean city and left 300,000 homeless. Some 30 people remain missing.
The explosion sharply deepened anger at the authorities.
“We can’t live like this. The West has to pressure our leaders to save us,” said Iyaam Ghanem, a Beirut pharmacist.
International humanitarian aid has poured in but foreign states have linked any financial assistance to reform of the Lebanese state, which has defaulted on its huge sovereign debts.
Zarif said Tehran and private Iranian companies were ready to help with reconstruction and rehabilitating Lebanon’s electricity sector, which is a chief target of reform.
He added Western countries should not take advantage of the massive explosion in Beirut.
“No foreign side should take advantage of the catastrophic conditions and the needs of Lebanon to impose dictates that are in their interests,” he said.
The blast has swelled popular anger at official corruption and mismanagement and political uncertainty.
Victims and their representatives told reporters that only an independent probe would deliver justice, appealing to the UN Security Council for an international investigation and the referral of the blast to an international court.
“Is it acceptable that people find their homes shattered, their families killed, their hopes and their dreams killed, with no justice,” said Paul Najjar, whose three-year-old daughter Alexandra died in the blast.
State news agency NNA said questioning of some ministers due on Friday had been postponed as the judge appointed for the task said he did not have authority to question government ministers.
The cabinet resignation has fuelled uncertainty. Agreement on a new government will likely be very difficult in a country with deep factional rifts and a sectarian power-sharing system.
Senior Christian cleric Maronite Patriarch Bechara Boutros Al-Rai, who has called for keeping Beirut out of regional conflicts, said on Thursday that a new Lebanon was being “cooked in kitchens” of foreign countries, which he did not name, to serve the interest of politicians.