Thursday, April 20, 2006

Annan Asks Iran To Cooperate In Disarming Lebanon Militias

Dow Jones Newswires:
Secretary-General Kofi Annan has urged Iran as well as Syria to cooperate in trying to restore Lebanon's political independence and disarm militias, the first time the U.N. chief has issued a report linking Tehran to instability in Lebanon.

U.S. Ambassador John Bolton said Wednesday that Annan's decision to single out Iran was "significant" and "an important step forward" because it recognizes " that Iran's financing terrorist groups in Lebanon and Syria has a significant impact on what happens in those two countries." READ MORE

Annan mentioned Iran in a report on implementation of a September 2004 Security Council resolution that called for the withdrawal of all foreign forces from Lebanon, the disbanding and disarmament of all militias, and the extension of government authority throughout the country.

The secretary-general made no mention of Iran financing terrorist groups. But he did note the "close ties, with frequent contacts and regular communication," that Lebanon's Hezbollah guerrillas, who are listed as a terrorist group by the United States, have with Syria and Iran.

Iran's interest in Lebanon and prospects for disarming Hezbollah are certain to come up when Lebanon's Prime Minister Fuad Saniora meets Annan and the Security Council on Friday. The council is expected to discuss the report on April 26 and will likely be briefed by Terje Roed-Larsen, the top U.N. envoy on Lebanon-Syria issues.

Annan said Lebanon's journey into a new era following last year's departure of Syrian troops after 29 years is fragile, though the country has made "further significant progress" in the last six months. But he warned that Lebanon will not regain full sovereignty and independence until Hezbollah and other Lebanese and non-Lebanese militias that operate freely give up their arms and come under government control.

During the past six months, Annan said, "a tense bilateral relationship has prevailed between Syria and Lebanon," marked by mutual accusations in public statements. But he called the National Dialogue in Lebanon, initiated by Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, "a truly historic and unprecedented event" that has brought Lebanese to talk about issues that only a few months ago were taboo.

The secretary-general emphasized in the report circulated Tuesday night that Hezbollah's leader, Sheik Hassan Nasrallah, was one of the Lebanese leaders promoting the National Dialogue. He said it was also "particularly noteworthy that Hezbollah has embraced the National Dialogue and is, through its participation in the roundtable and its agreement to its agenda, willing to discuss the issue of arms."

But in a footnote, Annan noted that Syrian President Bashar Assad urged continued "resistance" in Lebanon at a press conference on Jan. 19 with Iran's visiting President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who has become a close ally.

In what appears to be an intensification of Iranian contacts with Hezbollah, U.N. diplomats noted that Nasrallah went to Damascus to meet Ahmadinejad. Since January, the Hezbollah leader has gone to the Syrian capital to meet other senior Iranian officials, most recently former Iranian President Hashemi Rafsanjani whose trip ended Sunday, the diplomats said, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the issue publicly.

In the report, Annan noted the positive statements by Hezbollah leaders "that indicate their willingness to disarm" under a broad national defense policy to protect Lebanon.

Alluding to Iran and Syria, he said, "a dialogue with parties other than the Lebanese authorities is indispensable in order ... to disarm and disband all Lebanese and non-Lebanese militias,"

"It is my strong belief," Annan concluded, "that with the continued support of the Security Council, the continued National Dialogue, unity of the Lebanese, and far-sighted leadership of the government of Lebanon, as well as the necessary cooperation of all other relevant parties, including Syria and Iran, the difficulties of the past can be overcome and significant further headway be made towards the full implementation" of the September 2004 resolution.

Bolton said Annan's report demonstrated "the importance of Iranian interference in Lebanese internal affairs."

"I think by saying specifically that Syria and Iran have to be involved in ceasing their internal disruption in Lebanon is an important step forward, and I'm sure the council will consider that very carefully," he said.