Lebanese Premier Calls for Closer Cooperation

Lebanese Premier Calls for Closer Cooperation
Lebanese Premier Calls for Closer Cooperation

Lebanon's newly-elected Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri called for closer political and economic cooperation with Iran, which he described as "a big and powerful country in the region that possesses remarkable capacities".

"Tehran-Beirut relations should be taken to a higher level," he said, adding that he will ask his Cabinet to help remove obstacles to closer collaboration.

Hariri made the statement in a Saturday meeting with Alaeddin Boroujerdi, chairman of Majlis National Security and Foreign Policy Commission, who was heading a parliamentary delegation to Beirut, IRNA reported.

It was the third trip by high-ranking Iranian officials to Lebanon in about two months, after Hariri ended a 29-month-long presidential stalemate late October by announcing his endorsement for the candidacy of Michel Aoun for the presidency of the Arab republic.

The Lebanese parliament elected Aoun as president on October 31, 2016 and gave its vote of confidence to Hariri's Cabinet on December 28.

Hariri said Muslim states should put aside their "minor" differences and focus on "major" commonalities, urging them to engage in close cooperation to turn the Muslim world into a "big economic power".

"The malignant activities of terrorists [in the region], divisions in the Arab community, segmentations in the Muslim world and splits between Palestinian groups will only benefit Israel," he said.

After the meeting, Boroujerdi told reporters that he had announced "the firm readiness of Iran to build on the constructive political circumstances arisen in Lebanon to promote bilateral relations", noting that Beirut is also willing to take steps for forging broader ties.

Pointing to the nearly six-year-old crisis in Syria, the parliamentarian said Tehran and Beirut agree that the conflict can only be settled by taking "the political road" and such an approach is vital for restoring security to the region.

*** Arms Offer Still Stands

On Friday, Boroujerdi said an Iranian offer to supply arms to the Lebanese Army still stands, but it is up to the newly-established government in Beirut to make the final decision about accepting it.

"I believe the conditions are now more favorable for fostering bilateral ties, particularly in trade," he said on the sidelines of a visit to the cemetery of martyrs in Beirut.

Iran had put forward the proposal to support the Lebanese Army' anti-terror fight by providing it military equipment late 2014, but fears that such a transfer would violate international sanctions imposed on Iran over its nuclear activities were a barrier.

Lebanese Defense Minister Samir Moqbel announced last February that Beirut would consider Tehran's offer more seriously, after anti-Iran sanctions were removed in January 2016.

Saudi Arabia had made a similar offer to allocate $3 billion for military aid to Lebanon, but it withdrew the offer in February over undeclared reasons.

On Saturday, Boroujerdi also held talks with Aoun, Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri and Seyyed Hassan Nasrallah, secretary-general of the Lebanese resistance movement, Hezbollah.

Before arriving in Lebanon Thursday evening, Boroujerdi and fellow lawmakers paid a two-day visit to Syria, where they sat down for talks with senior officials, including President Bashar al-Assad, Prime Minister Imad Khamis, Foreign Minister Walid al-Muallem and Parliament Speaker Hadiya Khalaf Abbas.

The Iranian parliamentary delegation wound up its visit to Beirut on Saturday evening and returned to Tehran.

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