TEHRAN (AFP) – Iran is juggling an eagerness not to anger Lebanon, maintaining a close friendship with Syria and backing its key ally Hezbollah whom it sees as threatened by the pressure on Damascus to pull out its troops. Iranian goverment spokesman Abdollah Ramazanzadeh on Monday denounced what he said were “foreign provocations that have always caused trouble in Lebanon”. But in a sign that Iran has been forced to accept a Syrian pullback from Lebanon, he added that the Islamic republic would “respect any decision taken by the majority of Lebanese even if it against our vision”.

In watching the Lebanon-Syria crisis unfold, Iran appears to be more worried about the impact on Hezbollah — the Shiite Muslim movement backed by Tehran and Damascus — in the light of the demand in UN Security Council Resolution 1559 that it be disarmed.

“The Security Council cannot interfere in the internal affairs of a country,” Ramazanzadeh complained. “We believe that this intervention, which targets resistance in the face of occupation, is a dangerous precedent for the Security Council.”

Other Iranian officials have complained that the pressure on Syria is little more than a bid by the United States to boost the position of Israel, Iran’s stated arch-enemy.

“It should be noted that the pressures on Syria, using the pretext of pulling out of Lebanon, is apparently a predetermined plan by the Zionist regime in order to guarantee the expansionist policies of Israel,” said foreign ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi.

But Asefi was also careful to assert that for Iran, the issue of Syrian troops in Lebanon was a “bilateral matter” to be worked out between Beirut and Damascus.

“We respect any joint decision taken by Syria and Lebanon,” Asefi said, while also urging the Lebanese to “pay attention to their country’s sensitive circumstances and not to jeopardise their unity and integrity”.

Since Iran’s 1979 Islamic revolution, Syria has been its closest regional ally.

And in recent years, both states have found themselves in the crosshairs of US President George W. Bush (newsweb sites), even if Damascus was spared the “axis of evil” label.

During a visit last month to Tehran, Syrian Prime Minister Mohammad Naji Otri announced the two sides formed a “united front” against “threats”.

And Iranian President Mohammad Khatami (newsweb sites) asserted Iran “supports the Lebanese resistance and all who combat the occupation”.

“The worst form of terrorism,” Khatami said, “is state terrorism practised by the Zionist regime, and sadly those who fight to free their land are accused of being terrorists.”

For the hardline press in Tehran, a Syrian withdrawal is certain to be followed by mounting pressure on Hezbollah — and ultimately Iran’s presence in the country.

“The main objective of the United States is the disarmament of Hezbollah,” wrote the conservative daily Hamshahri.

“Israel has told certain countries like France and the United States that the departure of foreign troops (from Lebanon) can only happen if they also demand the departure of the Revolutionary Guards,” the hardline Ressalat paper said, referring to Iran’s ideological army seen as being close to Hezbollah.


“This signifies that the Zionists are trying to tie the events in Lebanon to Hezbollah and Iran,” the paper fumed. “There is no doubt that a dangerous and hidden game is in play, and Iran cannot stand by.”