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Iran envoy upbeat on all-embracing Cabinet

Iranian ambassador to Lebanon Ghazanfar Roknabadi, center, Hezbollah Deputy Secretary-General Sheikh Naim Kassem, center right, and other officials attend the Iranian National Day held at BIEL in Beirut, Monday, Feb. 10, 2014. (The Daily Star/Mohammad Azakir)

BEIRUT: Iran’s ambassador to Lebanon Monday voiced optimism on the formation of an all-embracing government but warned that a failure to do so could jeopardize the upcoming presidential election.

Ghazanfar Roknabadi, during a gathering with journalists on the eve of the 35th anniversary of the Islamic Revolution, also predicted a rapprochement in the near future between the Islamic Republic and its regional rival Saudi Arabia.

“We are optimistic on the formation of an all-embracing government soon,” the Iranian diplomat said.

“The dangers that the region will witness are much larger than this [government crisis],” he said. “We are optimistic and hope that all [political] sides will reach a deal.”

Eleven months have passed since Prime Minister-designate Tammam Salam was nominated to form the next government. President Michel Sleiman’s six-year-term ends on May 25. Lebanon enters a two-month constitutional period on March 25 to prepare for the election of the next head of state.

“If there was no understanding [between political sides] it will be very difficult to meet any challenges such as forming a government and electing a president,” he said.

While stressing that his government did not intervene in Lebanon’s Cabinet formation, he voiced Tehran’s readiness to “help in any way to end the [political] crisis.”

Turning to the recent suicide bombings outside the Iranian Embassy in Beirut, Roknabadi praised the work of Lebanese security agencies and said the probe of the deadly attack had seen progress.

“Important results have been produced within a month of the attack and the [apprehension] of [Jamal] Daftardar and [Omar] Atrash,” he said, referring to two individuals in the custody of authorities.

Daftardar, a commander of the Al-Qaeda-affiliated group that claimed responsibility for the Nov. 19 attack on the embassy, was apprehended by the Lebanese Army in mid-January. Atrash, a Sunni preacher, was arrested and charged last week over a spate of bombings in Lebanon and attacks against the Army.

Roknabadi said Lebanon’s state security agencies, including Army Intelligence, the Internal Security Forces and the police’s Information Branch, had all contributed positively in the probe of the Embassy attack that killed 30 people, including an Iranian diplomat.

He said Iran was also involved in the probe and was waiting for the final results of the investigation.

The ambassador also spoke about the crisis in Lebanon’s neighbor Syria and reiterated Tehran’s view on the upcoming presidential election there. “We are with whoever emerges [victorious] from the ballot box in Syria,” he said.

“Imagine the scene in Syria without [President] Bashar [Assad],” he added, noting the growing number of jihadist groups in the country.

“There are rightful demands by Syrian people but the Syrian people want reform under Assad,” he said.

Roknabadi also said his government had been urged to convince Assad not to run again for president.

“[U.N. Undersecretary-General for Political Affairs Jeffrey] Feltman, during a visit to Iran last summer, asked officials to convince Assad not to run in the elections. The Iranian officials asked him: ‘What’s the problem if he runs,” to which Feltman responded: ‘If he runs, he will win the elections.’”

Asked to comment on calls for foreign fighters to leave Syria, he said: “If we are thinking of a solution, we cannot be selective in calling for the withdrawal of all foreign fighters. You cannot focus on one group only. If Hezbollah alone pulled out, will that solve the problem?”

“The United States must stop financing and arming the armed groups, then foreign fighters should be pulled out,” he said.

Speaking in Davos last month, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif called for the withdrawal of foreign fighters from Syria so that the people could decide their own futures.

Roknabadi also reiterated Tehran’s support for Hezbollah, its Lebanese ally.

“Iran never sacrifices its allies for the sake of interests,” he said, when asked whether Tehran would abandon Hezbollah as part of any deal between Iran and the West. “We will not abandon our allies.”

The Iranian envoy also said recent measures by Saudi Arabia suggested a change in Riyadh’s foreign policy and he predicted a rapprochement was close at hand between Tehran and the Arab kingdom.

“[We are seeing a] start of change in Saudi Arabia’s foreign policy,” Roknabadi said, citing King Abdullah recent decree punishing Saudi citizens who fight in conflicts outside the kingdom.

“Iran is keen on the best of ties with the world, neighboring states, particularly Saudi Arabia,” Roknabadi said.

“Reaching the state of a Saudi-Iranian rapprochement will not take long,” he said. “God willing, we will reach that stage soon.”

“We insist on strengthening our ties with Saudi Arabia,” he added.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on February 11, 2014, on page 3.

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Summary

Iran's ambassador to Lebanon Monday voiced optimism on the formation of an all-embracing government but warned that a failure to do so could jeopardize the upcoming presidential election.

Lebanon enters a two-month constitutional period on March 25 to prepare for the election of the next head of state.

Roknabadi said Lebanon's state security agencies, including Army Intelligence, the Internal Security Forces and the police's Information Branch, had all contributed positively in the probe of the Embassy attack that killed 30 people, including an Iranian diplomat.

Roknabadi also said his government had been urged to convince Assad not to run again for president.

Speaking in Davos last month, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif called for the withdrawal of foreign fighters from Syria so that the people could decide their own futures.

The Iranian envoy also said recent measures by Saudi Arabia suggested a change in Riyadh's foreign policy and he predicted a rapprochement was close at hand between Tehran and the Arab kingdom.


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