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Hezbollah backs Saudi-Iranian dialogue as essential for stability

File - Hezbollah's deputy leader Sheikh Naim Qassem speaks in front of students at the LU in Hadath. (The Daily Star/Hasan Shaaban)

BEIRUT: Hezbollah supports a resumption of talks between Iran and Saudi Arabia and views them as essential for the region’s security and stability, a senior party official said Tuesday.

“We support a Saudi-Iranian dialogue and we hope it will take effective steps. It is important for the region’s security and its political stability,” Hezbollah’s deputy head Sheikh Naim Qassem said at a ceremony marking the 25th anniversary of the death of Iran’s late supreme leader Ayatollah Khomeini at UNESCO Palace in Beirut.

Departing Iranian Ambassador to Lebanon Ghazanfar Roknabadi also said his country was ready to improve strained ties with its Arab neighbors, especially Saudi Arabia.

Asked when a long-awaited dialogue between Riyadh and Tehran would begin, Roknabadi said after meeting Marada Movement leader MP Sleiman Frangieh at the latter’s residence in Bnashi in the north: “The Islamic Republic of Iran is ready to have the best relations with all neighbors in the region, particularly Saudi Arabia. When this intention exists on the Iranian and Saudi sides, setting a date [for dialogue] and other matters becomes a formality that can be easily agreed on.”

Rapprochement between Saudi Arabia and its regional rival Iran would have ramifications across the Middle East, possibly cooling political and military struggles in Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, Bahrain and Yemen.

In an ice-breaking move between the two countries, Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal said last month he had invited his Iranian counterpart Mohammad Javad Zarif to visit Riyadh for talks on divisive issues that have strained relations for years between the two. Zarif has visited other Gulf Arab states, but has not yet been to the kingdom.

Saudi Arabia has long been wary of Iran’s influence in the region. Riyadh has also been apprehensive of Tehran’s nuclear ambitions.

Saudi-Iranian relations have been further strained by policy differences, particularly over the 3-year-old civil war in Syria, where the two countries support opposing sides. Saudi Arabia and its Gulf neighbors back rebels fighting to topple Assad’s government, which is supported by Tehran.

In Lebanon, Saudi Arabia and Iran also support opposing sides. While the kingdom backs the Future Movement-led March 14 coalition, Iran supports Hezbollah-led March 8.

In his speech at UNESCO Palace, Qassem said a military solution to end the conflict in Syria had failed, adding that takfiri groups who came from all over and were sent to fight with rebels against Assad were now posing “a danger to Western states.”

“A military solution in Syria is finished. ... The solution in Syria is a political one,” he said.

Qassem, whose party sent fighters last year to aid Assad’s forces, said the alleged plan to destroy Syria and turn it from “a resistance country into a Zionist Syria” had failed.

Referring to Tuesday’s presidential vote that will keep Assad in power, he said: “They [Assad’s opponents] have been shocked by the heavy turnout in the presidential election in Syria. This is an expression of what the Syrian people want.”

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on June 04, 2014, on page 3.

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Summary

Hezbollah supports a resumption of talks between Iran and Saudi Arabia and views them as essential for the region's security and stability, a senior party official said Tuesday.

Departing Iranian Ambassador to Lebanon Ghazanfar Roknabadi also said his country was ready to improve strained ties with its Arab neighbors, especially Saudi Arabia.

Saudi Arabia has long been wary of Iran's influence in the region.

In Lebanon, Saudi Arabia and Iran also support opposing sides.


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