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March 14 says ready to reach out to Tehran
Former President Amin Gemayel, left, meets with former Prime Minister Fouad Siniora in Beirut, Thursday, Dec. 19, 2013. (The Daily Star/Dalati Nohra, HO)
Former President Amin Gemayel, left, meets with former Prime Minister Fouad Siniora in Beirut, Thursday, Dec. 19, 2013. (The Daily Star/Dalati Nohra, HO)
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BEIRUT: The March 14 coalition has signaled its readiness to reach out to Iran with the aim of seeking an end to military intervention by Tehran and Hezbollah in the war in Syria, March 14 officials said Thursday.

The planned March 14 openness toward Tehran comes nearly a month after Iran signed a historic interim accord on its nuclear program with the P5+1 group, the United States, Britain, China, France and Russia plus Germany. The accord would curb Iran’s nuclear ambitions in exchange for a limited relief of sanctions that have been battering its oil-dependent economy.

Former Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, head of the parliamentary Future bloc, had paved the way for the March 14 move by sending two letters to Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, though he has not received any answer yet.

“We will demand two things from Iran: a halt to Iran and Hezbollah’s military intervention in the war in Syria and [Tehran’s] commitment to the rules of international legitimacy,” Future MP Ammar Houri told The Daily Star.

Houri said the March 14 coalition would demand from Iran and Western powers that signed the nuclear deal their support for the return of Lebanese legitimacy, withdrawal of all illegitimate weapons, respect of Lebanon’s independence and sovereignty, commitment to the Baabda Declaration, and implementation of U.N. Resolution 1701 that ended Israel’s 34-day war on Lebanon in 2006.

Both Houri and Lebanese Forces MP Antoine Zahra ruled out the possibility of a visit by a March 14 delegation to Tehran, saying the planned outreach to Iran would be through letters to the Iranian government.

“The March 14 coalition is studying moves to reach out to Iran and Western powers,” Zahra told The Daily Star. “Basically, the March 14 coalition will ask Iran for Hezbollah’s pullout from Syria and facilitating the negotiations over a national defense strategy in Lebanon,” he said.Zahra reiterated the March 14 position that the coalition would not join Hezbollah in any political government before it withdraws its fighters from Syria.

Earlier Thursday, a March 14 source said the coalition was mulling steps to reach out to Iran and the six world powers that signed the agreement over Tehran’s nuclear program.

“The March 14 coalition is considering steps to approach Iran and the countries engaged in the recent nuclear agreement to clarify the coalition’s view over such a deal and the latest developments in the region,” the source told The Daily Star. “However, nothing is concrete yet.”

The March 14 alliance is also seeking to voice its concern to Iran over the situation in Lebanon and the Arab world and the repercussions of Hezbollah’s ongoing involvement in the battles in Syria, the source said.

According to the source, Siniora cabled Rouhani after his electoral victory congratulating him for becoming president.

The second message was sent after the nuclear agreement was signed, the source said. He added that the message explained Iran’s expected role in Lebanon on the basis of mutual respect and the dangers of Hezbollah’s military intervention in Syria. Rouhani did not reply to any of the cables yet, the source said.

The source said Siniora had recently met with top March 14 leaders, including former President and Kataeb leader Amine Gemayel and Lebanese Forces chief Samir Geagea, to discuss, among other things, the outreach to Iran.

During his talks with Gemayel, Siniora discussed a meeting between the Kataeb leader and Iranian Ambassador to Lebanon Ghazanfar Roknabadi that took place earlier this month.

Former Prime Minister Saad Hariri this week accused Iran of controlling Lebanon’s political decision-making through its key ally, Hezbollah, and vowed to end what he termed “the Iranian revolutionary occupation” of the country. In a speech delivered on his behalf by Future MP Nuhad Mashnouq Tuesday, Hariri said Hezbollah’s military involvement in Syria was to blame for the rise of takfiri factions in Lebanon.

Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah has defended his party’s intervention in Syria, arguing that it was mainly aimed at protecting Lebanon from car bombs and takfiri factions.

Meanwhile, Hezbollah’s parliamentary bloc rejected the March 14 charges that Iran was meddling in Lebanon’s internal affairs, and instead accused the coalition of providing a safe haven to takfiri groups blamed for a string of car bombs and suicide attacks that rocked the country recently.

“Targeting the Lebanese Army with two suicide attacks [in Sidon] and sending car bombs to safe Lebanese areas is a dangerous terrorist development, which is based on the March 14 group’s suspicious embrace of takfiri terrorists, who represent a serious threat to all Lebanese, as well as to national security, civil peace and coexistence,” the bloc said in a statement after its weekly meeting.

The bloc accused March 14 of using “inflammatory sectarian rhetoric” and creating a “fertile environment” for extremist groups while “exploiting” terrorist attacks for political gain by blaming Hezbollah for their presence in Lebanon, adding that such actions “exposed their [March 14’s] fake slogans about state-building.”

The bloc defended Hezbollah’s role in Syria, saying had the party not intervened there, “the wave of car bombs and suicide attacks would have been much worse than it is today, targeting all Lebanese areas and sects.”

The bloc urged President Michel Sleiman and Prime Minister-designate Tammam Salam to form “a salvation government” based on the 9-9-6 lineup, stressing that this was “the only way to maintain stability in the country and avert any vacuum in the presidency seat.”

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on December 20, 2013, on page 1.
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