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'Stop Playing Politics With Lebanon's Pain', Zarif Tells Western Countries

LEBANON -- Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif speaks at the presidential palace in Baabda, August 14, 2020

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad-Javad Zarif, who conducted an official visit to Lebanon’s calamity-stricken capital of Beirut on Friday, said the world should not play politics with Lebanon's pain.

“It is not humane to exploit the pain and suffering of the people [of Lebanon] for political goals,” the top Iranian diplomat said. The remark was made during a joint televised news conference with Lebanon’s Caretaker Foreign Minister Charbel Wehbe, criticizing the countries whose assistance to Lebanon was conditional on Lebanese governmental reform.

“We believe that the government and the people of Lebanon should decide on the future of Lebanon,” he said.

Since his arrival in Beirut on Friday morning, Zarif has also met with Hassan Diab, the Lebanese Prime Minister who is supported by Hezbollah.

Many Lebanese blame the powerful Shiite group for the corruption that led to the massive stockpile of ammonium nitrate, stored in highly unsafe conditions at the Port of Beirut for several years, which caused the August 4 explosion. The blast at the port killed at least 170 people, injured thousands, and destroyed entire neighborhoods of the Lebanese capital.

Diab announced his government’s resignation on August 11, following days of demonstrations demanding accountability over the Beirut disaster.

In his meetings with top Lebanese officials, including Lebanese President Michel Aoun and Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, Zarif said the Iranian government and private companies were ready to assist the reconstruction of Lebanon and rehabilitation of the country’s health and electricity sectors.

Zarif's meeting with President Aoun took place shortly after Aoun's separate meetings with the U.S. Under-Secretary of State for Political Affairs David Hale and French Defense Minister Florence Parly.

In his meeting with Lebanese officials, Zarif also denounced the Thursday agreement between the United Arab Emirates and Israel, calling it a "stab in the back of Lebanon" and other countries in the region.

Iran wields a large amount of influence in Lebanon through the Shiite group Hezbollah, which was strongly represented in the outgoing government and has an alliance with the faction of President Aoun.