BEIRUT: Iran’s Shura Council speaker ended a whistle-stop tour of top political officials in Beirut Monday by expressing Tehran’s support for Prime Minister Hassan Diab’s newly sworn-in Cabinet that is yet to get Washington's blessing.
Diab’s meeting with Ali Larijani was his first with a foreign official since his divisive government won a parliamentary vote of confidence last week.
The 20-member Cabinet is made up of ministers backed by Hezbollah and its allies.
It has been roundly rejected by protesters in Lebanon’s 4-month old nationwide uprising as “one-sided” technocratic and has failed to garner a warm welcome from many of Lebanon’s traditional international supporters in the Gulf and the West, many of which consider the Iran-backed Hezbollah a terrorist organization.
While the prime minister has said that his first trip abroad would be to the Arab region, particularly the Gulf monarchies, an Arab diplomat in the Gulf told Reuters only Qatar had invited Diab to visit so far.
"No other government in the Gulf will invite him," the diplomat said.
During a news conference at the Iranian Embassy in Beirut late Monday afternoon, Larijani was unequivocal on Tehran’s backing of Diab’s government and was “totally prepared” to cooperate.
Asked whether this position would jeopardize Western support, Larijani said “we do not oblige anyone else” to work with the new Lebanese government.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in January that Washington does “not know the answer yet” to the question of whether it will work with the new government.
“We do not hide our support for the resistance,” Larijani said, adding that he had met top resistance leaders in both Beirut and Damascus, where he had been before arriving in Lebanon Sunday night.
Hezbollah released a statement Monday evening saying the party’s leader Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah had met Larijani in Beirut earlier in the day in the presence of Iran's ambassador to Lebanon, Mohammad-Jalal Firouznia.
Local media reported that Larijani also met with the Secretary-General of the Iran-backed Palestinian Islamic Jihad group in Beirut.
After his news conference, Larijani headed to Baghdad, topping off a tour to the countries of the Shiite “Axis of Resistance” and foregoing a dinner at Beirut’s Phoenicia Hotel, local TV cchannel MTV reported.
However, he said that “we don’t need official visits to realize the harmony between the powers of the Axis of Resistance.”
Larijani warned the U.S. that Iran, and by association its allies, “have become more determined to achieve our goals,” particularly since the U.S. assassination of top Iranian Gen. Qasem Soleimani in a January drone strike in Baghdad.
In a string of political meetings at the head of a parliamentary delegation, Larijani also met with President Michel Aoun and Speaker Nabih Berri.
During his meeting with Aoun at Baabda Palace, Larijani brought with him a message from Iranian President Hasan Rouhani and re-extended an invitation for Aoun to visit Tehran.
He also expressed Iran's willingness to support Lebanon as it faces an unprecedented economic crisis.
Lebanon is facing its worst economic and financial crisis in decades, with the national currency seeing a devaluation of more than 40 percent amid a shortage of U.S. currency in what is a highly dollarized and import-reliant economy.
Diab last week formed a ministerial committee to draw up a comprehensive economic, monetary and financial plan and asked the International Monetary Fund for technical assistance on handling the crisis, including on whether to pay or default on the $1.2 billion Eurobond that is maturing next month.
The leader of the Lebanese Forces, Samir Geagea, hit out at Diab’s government in an interview, saying that it was “an attempt to evade responsibility,” MTV reported Monday evening.
Geagea, a fierce critic of Nasrallah, said that Hezbollah alone was to prevent the country from collapsing, but that in order to do so it must “remove the cover from its allies, fight corruption ... and hand over its weapons.”
Nasrallah had called on rival parties to rally behind the government to help it rescue Lebanon from its economic crisis.
Also Monday, Diab headed a meeting at the Grand Serail to discuss Lebanon’s dilapidated electricity sector, which bleeds around $2 billion of treasury funds every year. The meeting was attended by a delegation of the World Bank, including Saroj Kumar Jha, the regional director of the Mashreq Department.