BEIRUT: Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad stressed Thursday his country’s right to develop nuclear technology for peaceful purposes.
Addressing attendees at a ceremony at the Lebanese University, where he was awarded an honorary doctorate, Ahmadinejad slammed the US for denying the rest of the world access to the scientific benefits of peaceful nuclear technology.
“They dragged countries into conflicts so they can be the masters and dominate the world since the strong survives and the weak dies: this is the capitalist world,” he said.
“We see more than 16 beneficial scientific uses of nuclear energy in medical, industrial, agricultural and energy fields … but what have they done with this useful science? They changed its concept restricting it to nuclear weapons,” the Iranian president added.
On his second day of an official visit to Lebanon, Ahmadinejad was received by Prime Minister Saad Hariri at the Grand Serail, where he held closed-door talks with the premier before being joined by President Michel Sleiman and Speaker Nabih Berri for an honorary lunch banquet.
Discussions between Hariri and Ahmadinejad addressed the ongoing dispute over the Special Tribunal for Lebanon investigating the murder of the Lebanese premier’s father, former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, the Iranian ambassador to Lebanon told reporters following the meeting.
Media reports have said the court’s indictment is set to implicate Hizbullah members in the assassination, a development which analysts fear could instigate Sunni-Shiite strife similar to the clashes that erupted on May 7, 2008.
Shiite pro-opposition and Sunni pro-government gunmen fought bloody street battles in 2008 following the Cabinet’s decision to dismantle Hizbullah’s telecommunication network. The clashes ended with the Doha Accord sponsored by Qatar and backed by regional powerbrokers Syria and Saudi Arabia.
A Syrian-Saudi rapprochement in 2009 after four years of broken ties led to a tripartite Lebanese-Syrian-Saudi summit recently held in Beirut during which leaders stressed the need to preserve stability in Lebanon.
However, so far, Saudi Arabia and Syria remain divided over the STL.
Commenting on Ahmadinejad’s visit, Progressive Socialist Party leader MP Walid Jumblatt said an improvement in relations between Saudi Arabia and Iran would pave the road for stability in Lebanon.
Ahmadinejad’s visit to Lebanon was preceded by a phone conversation with the Saudi monarch.
Well-informed sources told The Daily Star on Thursday that positions endorsed by the Iranian president during his visit to Lebanon expressed Iran’s support of the Syrian-Saudi understanding over the need to preserve stability in Lebanon.
The sources said Ahmadinejad, despite expressing Iran’s willingness to equip the Lebanese Army, would not address the issue if the Lebanese fail to agree on it, a sign that Iran was taking into consideration the Syrian-Saudi agreement to refrain from raising tensions in Lebanon, the source added.
But Western states have warned against instability in Lebanon describing the Iranian president’s visit as a provocative one. The White House said the visit proved that Hizbullah “cared more about Iran than the people of Lebanon.”
Earlier Thursday during a meeting with a large gathering of religious figures at his residence at Phoenicia Hotel in Beirut, Ahmadinejad reiterated Iran’s commitment to resistance movements in Lebanon and the Palestinian territories.
“We will stay by your side forever and victory will be ours and I will be on your side when needed and I am ready to be a small soldier to defend Lebanese and Palestinian sovereignty against enemies,” he added.
“I suggest that the Lebanese hold more gatherings because Lebanon’s quality lies in religious coexistence and national unity, which should be preserved,” Ahmadinejad said.
Ahmadinejad’s two-day trip seen as a key boost for Hizbullah as a Shiite resistance group, but has prompted criticism by members of Lebanon’s parliamentary majority.
Lebanese Forces MP Antoine Zahra expressed fear that the visit symbolized the establishment of an advanced Iranian defensive line in Lebanon.
But Hizbullah lawmakers hailed Ahmadinejad’s visit as a guarantee to national unity and a factor easing tensions on the Lebanese scene.
“The speech of the Iranian president is a uniting one … clarifying to all Lebanese that Iran is a friendly state supportive of the country’s unity,” Hizbullah’s Loyalty to Resistance bloc MP Ali al-Maqdad said.
After the lunch banquet at Hariri’s residence, Ahmadinejad left for a tour to south Lebanon where he addressed supporters in Bint Jbeil and Qana.
His tour raised criticism from the US and Israel who condemned it as a provocative trip aimed at establishing an Iranian base in the Mediterranean.
From Bint Jbeil, four kilometers from the Israeli border, Ahmadinejad predicted Israel’s demise and hailed Hizbullah’s resistance before moving to Qana, where he paid homage to the martyrs of the 1996 Israel bombing of a UN shelter that killed 106 people, mostly women and children.
Following his tour in the south, the Iranian president returned to Baabda Presidential Palace to bid farewell his Lebanese counterpart before leaving for Tehran.