U.S.-Backed Lebanon Signals More Support for Iran in U.N. Security Council
Parliamentary Speaker Nabih Berri’s pledge during a meeting with visiting Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki came during a week that has seen Lebanon’s U.S.-backed government improve relations both with Iran and with Iran’s ally, Syria.
According to Iran’s Fars news agency, Berri told Mottaki that Lebanon would back Iran in all international bodies and organizations.
It said that Berri, a Shi’ite who has held the speaker’s post for 17 years, also voiced appreciation for Tehran’s support for Lebanon and “the Resistance,” a reference to the Iranian- and Syrian-backed Shi’ite terrorist organization, Hezbollah.
On January 1, Lebanon begins a two-year stint as one of 10 non-permanent members of the Security Council. The new year also marks the U.S. deadline for Iran to respond to international demands on its nuclear programs, or face “tough” sanctions – a deadline White House press secretary Robert Gibbs stressed Tuesday was looming and “very real.”
The Obama administration has indicated that it hopes to build broad international support for any new sanctions, but if anything, the post-Jan.1 Security Council may be even more resistant than the current one.
Not only did China, a veto-wielding permanent member, this week reiterate its longstanding opposition to such a move, but joining Lebanon as another non-permanent newcomer is Brazil, whose President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva hosted Iran’s Mahmoud Ahmadinejad last month and voiced opposition to further sanctions against Tehran.
Two other new council members are Nigeria and Gabon, which like Lebanon are also members of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), a bloc supportive of Iran.
The newcomers join existing non-permanent members now halfway through their two-year Security Council stints. They include Turkey and Uganda, two more OIC members.
During a visit to Washington this month, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan objected to sanctions against Iran, saying the nuclear issue “can be resolved through diplomacy and diplomacy only.”
In other recent indications of where next year’s non-permanent Security Council members stand on Iran, Turkey and Brazil both abstained – rather than voted for – a Nov. 27 International Atomic Energy Agency resolution censuring Iran for its nuclear activities.
And in a U.N. General Assembly vote last Friday criticizing Iran’s human rights record, six of the 10 did not support the resolution (Lebanon and Nigeria voted “no,” Brazil, Uganda and Gabon abstained, and Turkey absented itself.)
Of the 10 non-permanent Security Council members for 2010, therefore, at least six have to varying degrees signaled sympathy for Iran. The remaining four are Austria, Japan, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Mexico.
Lebanon Looks to Syria, Iran
Lebanon’s new government, backed by the West and headed by Prime Minister Saad Hariri, has taken significant foreign policy steps in recent days.
Over the weekend, the new prime minister visited Damascus for talks with President Bashar al-Assad, almost five years after his father, former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, was killed in a truck bombing which remains the subject of a U.N. inquiry.
Rafik Hariri had opposed Syrian political interference and the presence of 15,000 Syrian troops in Lebanon, and suspicion of responsibility for his assassination fell on both Syria and Hezbollah.
In a country long plagued by violent factionalism, the new Sunni prime minister’s cabinet is a mix of Shi’ites, Sunnis, Christians and Druze, one-third of whom are Hezbollah members or allies.
Several Security Council resolutions call for the disarming of Hezbollah, but the new government, like its predecessor, is unwilling or unable to do so.
Instead, the government’s new policy statement implicitly supports Hezbollah’s right to keep its weapons stockpiles by upholding “the right of Lebanon, its people, its army and its Resistance [Hezbollah] to liberate” territory adjacent to the border with Israel which Lebanon claims.
Security Council resolution 1701 of 2006 requires “the disarmament of all armed groups in Lebanon, so that … there will be no weapons or authority in Lebanon other than that of the Lebanese state.” A 2004 resolution, 1559, calls for “the disbanding and disarmament of all Lebanese and non-Lebanese militias.”
As Hariri ended his visit to Syria early this week, Mottaki was beginning his in Lebanon, and Hariri met with the Iranian foreign minister on Monday.
The prime minister voiced interest in expanding relations with Tehran and praised Iran’s “positive and constructive” role in the region. Iranian media reported that a foreign ministry spokesman in Tehran announced that Hariri would pay a visit to Iran soon.
Mottaki also met with Lebanese Foreign Minister Ali al-Shami, who expressed strong support for “Iran’s legitimate and legal right to enjoy the peaceful nuclear energy.”
And the Iranian minister held talks with Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah, with whom he discussed regional political developments and Israeli “threats against Lebanon,” according to Hezbollah’s Web site.