TEHRAN, (AFP) – Iranian Defence Minister Ahmad Vahidi on Sunday told Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri that Tehran was prepared to help the Lebanese army, state television’s website reported.
“We have stated on several occasions, and we say it again today, that we stand alongside the Lebanese army and are prepared to cooperate” with it, Vahidi said during a meeting with the visiting premier, the report said.
In a symbolic move, Vahidi offered Hariri an Iranian-made sub-machine gun Tondar (Thunder), used in urban warfare. Iranian television showed pictures of the gilded weapon which was placed in a wooden box.
Hariri for his part expressed optimism that his visit would enhance cooperation between Iran and Lebanon in the field of defence, according to the report.
Hariri, who arrived in Tehran on Saturday for a three-day official visit, made the statement after visiting an exhibition dedicated to the achievements of Iran’s defence industry.
“The stability, security and unity of Lebanon play a very important role in resolving regional and internal issues. Therefore, I wanted to come to Iran and see your defence achievements, even though it is contrary to the position of our enemies,” Hariri was quoted as saying.
Earlier this month the United States, which accuses Iran of interference in Lebanon, lifted a freeze on 100 million dollars in US military aid to Lebanon.
The Iranian minister also criticised a UN tribunal probing the 2005 assassination of Hariri’s father, former premier Rafiq Hariri, while condemning his killers as “enemies of Lebanon.”
“Today, some from outside Lebanon seek to take the security of Lebanon hostage, in the form of the tribunal,” Vahidi said.
The tribunal is expected to implicate high-ranking Hezbollah officials in the murder, but the party has warned against this, prompting fears of sectarian conflict between Hariri’s Sunni supporters and the Shiite Hezbollah.
Iran is a staunch backer of Hezbollah.
Ahead of the visit, a Lebanese ministerial source told AFP that Hariri hoped Iran would help to reconcile the rival pro-Western camp and Hezbollah.
Hariri is meeting Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad Sunday evening and the two countries are also expected to focus on mutual cooperation, following up on 17 agreements signed during Ahmadinejad’s October visit to Lebanon.