27, 2007

Mottaki denies Tehran-Riyadh plan to end standoff in Beirut

BEIRUT: Iran denied Monday the existence of any joint plan with Saudi Arabia to break the political deadlock in Lebanon, but said the two regional powers were talking with all Lebanese sides in order to help resolve the situation. "There is no set Saudi-Iranian plan," Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said during a news conference with former Lebanese Premier Salim al-Hoss, who is visiting Tehran as part of a mission to resolve the current political deadlock.

"But we are carrying out negotiations with the various Lebanese sides and there have even been suggestions to bring the sides closer," Mottaki added.

Iran’s top national security official, Ali Larijani, has held talks with Saudi officials in Riyadh twice this year, while his Saudi counterpart, Prince Bandar bin Sultan, visited Tehran in late January.

"The talks between Iran and Saudi Arabia were to shed light on the different angles of the situation in Lebanon and on how we can bring the different points of view closer," said Mottaki

Hoss has been making the rounds of meetings with regional and Lebanese figures from both camps in a bid to break the deadlock between government supporters and the Hizbullah-led opposition.

"Lebanon is now suffering from religious divisions. We have experienced ethnic divisions and these were destructive but religious divisions are even more destructive," said Hoss.

"Lebanese leaders have been working day and night to ensure that the situation does not explode. Thank God, the situation has not exploded," he added.

From Lebanon, Iranian Ambassador Mohammad Reza Sheybani insisted that Saudi-Iranian dialogue was still under way and that all discussions made concerning Lebanon, "are being immediately communicated to Lebanese officials."

Speaking to reporters after talks with a key opposition member, Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) chief Michel Aoun, Sheybani said: "All discussions taking place on the current state of turmoil prevailing in the Middle East will certainly hit upon the Lebanese issue."

He added that foreign forces are working on inciting violence in the region, "and preventing stability from prevailing … in order to take control of the Middle Eastern and are working on spreading the notion of constructive chaos."

A statement released by the FPM after its weekly meeting was also conciliatory, emphasizing the importance of "giving Lebanese discussions priority over discussions from outside."

However, Hizbullah MP Mohammad Raad upped the tone Monday, saying there would be no parliamentary session in March until a national unity government is formed.