Lebanon News

Roknabadi sees Iran-Saudi breakthrough

File - Iranian ambassador to Lebanon Ghazanfar Roknabadi attends a ceremony in the southern suburbs of Beirut, Friday, Jan. 25, 2013. (The Daily Star/Hasan Shaaban)

BEIRUT: There has been a breakthrough in tense relations between Iran and Saudi Arabia that will have a positive impact on all regional issues, Iranian Ambassador to Lebanon Ghazanfar Roknabadi said Wednesday.

Speaking to reporters after meeting former President Emile Lahoud, Roknabadi voiced hope that Lebanon would be able to elect a new president in the same way rival political leaders had agreed in February on the formation of a new Cabinet and its policy statement.

Asked if there were any attempts to improve strained Saudi-Iranian ties, he said: “We repeat that Iran hopes to have the best relations with all countries in this region, at the forefront of which is the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Based on this, we feel that there are breakthroughs [in ties] between Iran and Saudi Arabia that will leave positive effects on all issues, particularly those related to the Middle East.”

There have been reports in the past that Saudi Arabia had invited Iranian President Hassan Rouhani to visit the kingdom.

When and if the visit takes place, it is expected to help defuse sectarian tensions in the region, particularly in Lebanon, where Riyadh and Tehran back rival parties.

While Saudi Arabia supports the Future Movement and its March 14 allies, Iran backs the Hezbollah-led March 8 alliance.

Relations between regional heavyweights Saudi Arabia and Iran have been strained by policy differences, particularly over the 3-year-old war in Syria, where the two countries support opposing sides.

Any thaw in Saudi-Iranian ties would also help in facilitating holding the Lebanese presidential election on time.

Asked to comment on the upcoming presidential vote in Lebanon, Roknabadi said: “We wish the Lebanese people all good. Given that all officials in Lebanon had agreed on overcoming the phase of forming a Cabinet and a policy statement, Lebanon, which is set for the presidential election, will overcome this stage.”

He voiced hope that the election of a new president would take place according to what all the Lebanese would agree on.

“We support all efforts being made in order to preserve stability and unity in Lebanon,” the ambassador said.

“We see that the country is going through this difficult stage in a positive way despite all the dangers threatening this region.”

Speaker Nabih Berri and other Lebanese politicians have said that improved Iranian-Saudi relations would result in breakthroughs in the Syria crisis as well as in Lebanon and Iraq.

Meanwhile, the March 14 coalition announced Wednesday it would nominate a single candidate for the presidential election.

“The March 14 parties will have one candidate in the presidential battle,” the March 14 Secretariat General said in a statement.

The presidential race has gained momentum after Lebanon last month entered the two-month constitutional deadline for Parliament to meet to elect a new president.

So far, Lebanese Forces chief Samir Geagea is the only Maronite leader who has announced he would run for the presidency. President Michel Sleiman’s six-year term expires on May 25.

Kataeb Party MP Sami Gemayel urged Parliament to meet in an attempt to agree on a new electoral law ahead of parliamentary elections planned in November.

Speaking at a news conference, Gemayel also urged Berri to put all draft electoral laws on the agenda of Parliament’s Secretariat General before calling for a session to elect a new president.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on April 10, 2014, on page 3.




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