Iran Nuclear NewsSiniora urges Iran to stop nuclear program, seeks Syria...

Siniora urges Iran to stop nuclear program, seeks Syria talks

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Bloomberg: Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora said Iran should abandon its nuclear program in the interests of Middle East peace, while urging the world to remember that Israel already possesses weapons of mass destruction. July 3 (Bloomberg) — Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora said Iran should abandon its nuclear program in the interests of Middle East peace, while urging the world to remember that Israel already possesses weapons of mass destruction.

“I don’t subscribe to any idea that Iran should have nuclear power,” Siniora said in an interview yesterday in his office, an old Ottoman building in central Beirut that was once a hospital, after lambasting what he called the international community’s “double standards” over Israel’s arsenal of “hundreds of nuclear warheads.”

Siniora said he’s communicated Lebanon’s opposition to Iranian nuclear power in “frank and very good discussions” with Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki. While Beirut wants good relations with Tehran, it could “not approve of any intervention made by Iran into our affairs,” he added.

The 62-year-old former banker and finance minister from Lebanon’s port city of Sidon was thrust into the top political job a year ago after his friend and boss, Rafiq Hariri, was assassinated. The behind-the-scenes technocrat took the helm at the most politically unstable period Lebanon had faced since the end of its 15-year civil war.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said on June 21 his government will take up to two months to respond to a European Union-led offer of trade and technology incentives in return for restrictions on the Islamic republic’s nuclear research program. Foreign ministers from the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council — the U.S., China, Russia, the U.K. and France — plus Germany offered the package of incentives.

Atomic Weapons?

Iran says it wants to enrich uranium to low levels so it can fuel a nuclear power plant. The U.S. and European governments fear Tehran is planning to develop atomic weapons.

The U.S., Britain and France in May put forward a UN resolution urging Damascus to establish diplomatic relations with Beirut, end a border dispute and halt the flow of arms into Lebanon. The text, while not naming Iran, referred to a recent UN report that said Tehran should use its influence in Lebanon to disband Shiite militias such as Hezbollah, which the U.S. considers a terrorist organization.

“We all know that Iran supplies Hezbollah, Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad, and what the implications of the near alliance that Syria and Iran seem to have formed in recent months” are on peace and security in the region, John Bolton, U.S. ambassador to the UN, told reporters on April 26.

Pressuring Israel

While Hezbollah is legally represented in the Lebanese parliament and cabinet, Siniora said his government must have a “monopoly” on weapons in the country. To this end, he put the onus on Israel, demanding the government of Ehud Olmert withdraw its forces from the disputed Shebaa farm area along the Lebanon- Israel border.

To increase pressure on Israel, Siniora wants to hold talks with Syria aimed at winning formal acknowledgement of Lebanon’s sovereignty over the Shebaa region. Should Syria acquiesce, the UN would be more supportive of efforts to oust Israeli troops and Hezbollah’s argument that it must remain armed to reclaim the Shebaa would be undermined.

“We have to delineate our borders,” the prime minister said. “We have to set diplomatic relations. Lebanon is not asking anything beyond the ordinary.”

Syrian Domination

Lebanon cast off almost three decades of Syrian occupation last year after public outrage and international pressure following the assassination of Hariri forced Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to remove his troops. Assad has denied his government had any involvement in the death of Hariri, who opposed the Syrian presence, but relations between the neighbors remain tense.

The Syrian withdrawal led to a June 2005 election victory for the anti-Syrian political bloc, giving it a majority in Lebanon’s parliament.

Siniora heads the government from an expansive office and residence rebuilt by Hariri after it suffered extensive damage during the civil war. Known as the Grand Serail, it overlooks Beirut’s Riad el-Sohl Square, site of a statue of the eponymous former Lebanese prime minister who was assassinated years ago for aspiring to an independent Lebanon free of Syrian influence.

Siniora, a Sunni Muslim who didn’t participate in the civil war, offers the small Mediterranean country of five million a vision of a future in which the Lebanese make their own decisions on domestic policies. The technocrat prime minister is dedicated to Lebanon maintaining its independence.

“The most important change is that the Syrians are out, and now we are establishing our rule of law on the basis that the Lebanese have to make their own decisions,” he said. “Now we are really building the independent and sovereign country which he dreamed to have and worked hard to have,” Siniora said, referring to Hariri.

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