Iran Press Service


By IPS Diplomatic Correspondent Nina Kamran

Tehran 18th June (IPS)
In a declaration that would certainly please all the major actors in the Middle East theatre, particularly Syria, Israel and the Palestinians, Ayatollah Ali Khameneh'i of Iran said he would support peace in the region provided it "respects and guarantees" the rights of the Palestinians.

The leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran made the conciliatory statement during a meeting with the visiting United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan.

He described the problems in the region and solutions for solving them as "complicated, delicate and important", observing however that the solutions offered until now for the Middle East issue have not respected the rights of the Palestinian nation.

''We always seek peace, but a just peace'', Mr. Khameneh'i, pointed out in a dramatic departure from his staunch anti-peace line.

Iranian observers and political analysts noted that this was the first time that the Iranian leader, known for his championing the total destruction of Israel he routinely describes as the region's "cancerous tumour" expresses a softer stance.

They said if confirmed, the seemingly more positive attitude stated by the Iranian leader concerning the Peace Process might translate his desire to both strengthen the position of Syria's new Boss as well as confirming the continuation of Tehran-Damascus "Strategic Alliance" forged by Bashar's father 21 years ago.

Hafez el Asad died ten days ago of a heart attack at the age of 69 and on Sunday, Syria's ruling Ba's Party officially confirmed Dr. Bashar Asad, 34, as the nation's new President.

"In any case, (Mr. Khameneh'i's) gesture would be appreciated by Syria's new leadership and welcomed by Israel", one Iranian analyst observed.

In a "fact finding mission" aimed at finalising the withdrawal of the Israeli army from Lebanon, Mr. Annan had arrived earlier in the morning in Tehran coming from Morocco. He will continue his tour by visiting other interested capitals of the area, including Beirut, Jerusalem, Gaza, Amman, Damascus and Cairo.

Mr. Khameneh'i reiterated his denunciation of Israel's "arrogant and oppressive practices" in the region, a policy that is "fully backed by the United States" and criticised the United Nations and the Security Council for not "following a single standard in dealing with international issues".

"If a real solution is available for the Middle East issue, it should take into account the rights of the Palestinian nation, for one can not ignore the legitimate rights of several million Palestinian refugees", he observed.

Ayatollah Khameneh'i nevertheless expressed satisfaction at the "effective role" played by both the United Nations and the very person of Mr. Annan in implementing the UN Security Council Resolution, but noted that the Lebanon-Israel dispute "has not come to an end, because the Zionist regime has not yet withdrawn from the entire Lebanese territory.

Mr. Khameneh'i made the observation as the Lebanese authorities disputed Sunday UN's confirmation that the Israeli withdrawal from the security zone it had created in parts of south Lebanon 22 years ago was completed.

Tel Aviv pulled out its forces from the area on 24th of May.

Reporting on the meeting, the Iranian official news agency IRNA said Mr. Annan briefed Mr. Khameneh'i on the withdrawal of the "Zionist" regime from south Lebanon, the UN activities on border demarcation and called for Iran's assistance in helping resolve the Middle East dilemma.

''I hope the United Nations Resolutions on the Middle East will be

implemented with assistance of regional states'', IRNA quoted Mr. Annan as having said.

Observers said considering Iran's special relations with the Lebanese Hezbollah, Tehran obviously plays an important role at the sidelines.

In a separate meeting with Annan, President Mohammad Khatami appreciated the endeavours made by the UN to drive the Zionist regime out of south Lebanon and observed that Zionist regime for the first time complied with UN resolutions and withdrew from Lebanese territory.

"Our duty is to stand by those who defend themselves against oppression and put an end to the aggression", Mr. Khatami told the Secretary General and urged the UN to continue its efforts until complete withdrawal of the Zionist regime from Lebanese territory and hoped that what has taken place would be the beginning of stability in southern Lebanon", according to IRNA.

Mr. Khatami said the release of Lebanese prisoners by Israel was "one of the main conditions" for a sustainable peace "that had not yet been met".

He called on regional states to contribute to peace and security in the region and said a practical action should be taken to repatriate Palestinian refugees.

In response, Mr. Annan pledged that the international community would work to free the Lebanese prisoners.

Expressing his pleasure with withdrawal of the Israeli troops from southern Lebanon, Annan assured that with the UN increasing its troops in this region, Israel could not embark on aggression after the border demarcation is complete.

He also said the UN Development Program (UNDP) will hold a conference in Beirut on reconstruction of southern Lebanon, IRNA added

A source close to the UN's General Secretary described his talks with Iranian leaders as "positive and constructive" and quoted Mr. Annan saying co-operation by countries like Iran for détente in the region was "instrumental" for the UN in establishing peace and security in the region.

Touching on the Afghan issue, Mr. Khatami, who is also the current Chairman of the Jeddah-based Organisation of Islamic Conference called for a UN-OIC co-operation to help establish a lasting peace in Afghanistan and expressed his satisfaction that the UN has established its special representative office in Tehran for the war-torn Afghanistan, IRNA said. ENDS KHAMENEH'I ANNAN 18600

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