Lebanon News

Lebanese leaders voice conflicting views on Iran nuclear deal

LF leader Samir Geagea attends Good Friday mass in Bkirki, Friday, April 3, 2015. (The Daily Star/Aldo Ayoub, HO)

BEIRUT: Rival Lebanese politicians offered mixed reactions Friday to a framework nuclear agreement reached between Iran and world powers, with Hezbollah praising the deal as a “victory” for the Islamic Republic, and the Future Movement hoping it would restrain Tehran’s “imperialist tendencies.”

Interior Minister Nouhad Machnouk, a leading figure in the Future Movement, voiced fears that the lifting of tough economic sanctions on Iran as a result of the deal with the West would provide the Iranian government with more money and resources to increase its intervention in the volatile region.

“So far, we don’t have details of the framework agreement. But we hope it will help stability in the region and curb Iran’s emperor tendencies to dominate the region,” Future MP Ammar Houri told The Daily Star.

Like the Future Movement-led March 14 coalition, Houri blamed Iran for the 10-month-old presidential deadlock by preventing the election of a new president through its allies, Hezbollah and Free Patriotic Movement leader MP Michel Aoun.

“Iran is blocking the presidential vote. We hope that after the nuclear agreement it will facilitate the vote by allowing Hezbollah and Gen. Aoun to elect a president,” he added.

A similar view was echoed by Future MP Mohammad Qabbani.

“We hope the nuclear agreement will help resolve the presidential crisis. Tehran is holding the key to the presidential election,” Qabbani told The Daily Star. “We have to wait and see if Tehran will give the green light to Hezbollah and Gen. Aoun to go ahead and elect a president.”

Parliament failed Thursday in the 21th abortive attempt since last April to elect a president over a lack of quorum, prompting Speaker Nabih Berri to postpone the session to April 22.

Lawmakers from Aoun’s bloc, Hezbollah’s bloc and its March 8 allies have been blamed for thwarting a quorum with their consistent boycott of Parliament sessions, demanding an agreement beforehand with their March 14 rivals over a consensus candidate for the presidency.

Tehran and world powers reached a framework agreement Thursday on curbing Iran’s nuclear program for at least a decade. The initial agreement, after eight days of marathon talks in Lausanne, Switzerland, clears the way for negotiations on a settlement aimed at allaying Western fears that Iran was seeking to build an atomic bomb and in return lift economic sanctions on the Islamic Republic.

The framework is contingent on reaching a final agreement by June 30. All sanctions on Iran remain in place until a final deal.

Hezbollah MP Nawar Sahli praised the nuclear agreement as a “victory” for the Islamic Republic of Iran. “There is a global recognition of Iran as a member of the nuclear club,” Sahli told The Daily Star. “We hope the agreement will have positive repercussions on security and stability in the region, even though Iran had said the nuclear issue was separate from regional conflicts.”

He said the agreement would not have any impact on the presidential crisis, rejecting March 14 charges that Iran was blocking the election of a president.

“The presidential election issue should be solved at a negotiations table in Lebanon. There is no connection whatsoever between the presidential election and Iran’s nuclear issue,” Sahli said. “The other [March 14] side always links the presidential vote to the Iranian nuclear issue. This linkage is not true.”

Berri said Lebanon would stand to benefit from the nuclear deal, which he described as an “important step” toward resolving the crises in the region.

Qabbani, the Future MP, said any political solutions can have a role in reducing tensions in the region.

“With regard to the nuclear agreement, we have to wait for the reactions of the main regional and international powers to find out if it will have an impact on the region,” he said. “We have also to wait to see how Iran will react in the region after the agreement.”

Asked if the agreement would set the stage for a Saudi-Iranian rapprochement, Qabbani said: “This matter [rapprochement] depends on what is happening in Yemen and on whether Iran stops its support for the Houthis and takes its hand off Yemen.”

“This agreement can have a positive impact if Iran reduces its intervention in the region,” he added.

Last week, Saudi Arabia spearheaded a regional coalition to launch a military offensive against Iranian-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen.

Saudi Arabia, which is locked in a region-wide struggle for power with Iran, is worried that by easing Western sanctions on Tehran, the Islamic Republic would have greater scope to support proxies that Riyadh opposes across the Middle East.

For his part, Machnouk downplayed the importance of the nuclear deal, but warned that the lifting of sanctions that have been hitting Iran’s economy hard would encourage Tehran to expand its intervention in the region.

“There is no final agreement yet between the West and Iran,” Machnouk said in an interview with LBCI channel Thursday night. “It’s only a tentative agreement.”

The minister voiced fears that the lifting of sanctions on Iran would “provide the Iranian government with more money and resources to increase its intervention and influence in the region.” Machnouk cited Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Lebanon, where Iran already wields great influence.

Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea said the nuclear agreement would not have any impact on the presidential election.

“A solution to our crisis is the presidential election. This election is linked neither to Iran, France, America or Saudi Arabia, but rather to the 128 lawmakers,” Geagea told reporters after meeting, accompanied by his wife Strida and Maronite Patriarch Beshara Rai in Bkirki, the seat of the Maronite Church.

Geagea, the March 14-backed candidate for the presidency, renewed his call on the lawmakers to go to Parliament to elect a president. He, however, said he did not expect a president to be elected soon.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on April 04, 2015, on page 3.

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