BEIRUT: Mohammad Fathali, Iran’s newly appointed ambassador to Lebanon, said upon arrival to Beirut Wednesday that he considered Lebanon a friendly country, and was looking forward to establishing bilateral relations.
“I believe I’ve come to a brotherly country,” Fathali told reporters at Beirut’s Rafik Hariri International Airport. “And I carry with me a strong and kind message from Iranian officials, and it is that Lebanon is playing an outstanding and significant regional role.”
The envoy arrived to a warm welcome from political and religious officials, including representatives of the Amal Movement, Hezbollah, the Free Patriotic Movement, the Gathering of Muslim Scholars and the Higher Shiite Council, as well as Lebanon-based representatives from the Palestinian factions Hamas and Islamic Jihad.
Fathali said Lebanon was special in that it was home to several creeds and religions that stand side by side. He also hailed Lebanon for standing “rock-hard against Zionists’ greed,” and gave thanks that his coming to the country coincided with the Resistance and Liberation Day on May 25, which marks Israel’s 2000 withdrawal from south Lebanon.
Iran is a major backer of the March 8 coalition, headed by Hezbollah. Tehran’s interests in Lebanon have been targeted by Al-Qaeda-linked groups over the past months.
A twin suicide attack against Iran’s embassy in Beirut’s southern suburb of Bir Hasan last November killed 30 people and wounded over 15. The Abdullah Azzam Brigades said it carried out the attack in response to Hezbollah’s involvement in Syria’s war alongside the regime. Iran’s cultural center was also hit by a similarattack in the same district in February, killing and wounding scores.
“I’m looking forward to greater cooperation between Lebanon and Iran and, God willing, I will seek to build bridges of cooperation among the various Lebanese political parties,” Fathali said.
Fathali replaces Iranian Ambassador to Lebanon Ghazanfar Roknabadi, whom he thanked at the airport for the “unremitting and serious effort” he exerted in Lebanon, and his work in reinforcing bilateral relations between the two countries.
Fathali, a Middle East expert, had served as a Foreign Ministry economic adviser and Iran’s ambassador to Uzbekistan. He presented his credentials to Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil at the Foreign Ministry.
Following his meeting with Bassil, the ambassador said the Lebanese foreign minister expressed his hope for “further development of good bilateral relations between the brotherly countries.”
Roknabadi made farewell visits Tuesday to Speaker Nabih Berri and Bassil. He served as Iranian ambassador to Lebanon for four years.