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Beirut Warmly Greets Iran's President

May 13, 2003|From Associated Press

BEIRUT — Making the first visit by an Iranian president to Lebanon since Tehran's 1979 Islamic Revolution, Mohammad Khatami received a rousing welcome in Beirut as he vowed to support "legitimate resistance" against Israel despite U.S. pressure to rein in militant groups.

The United States has called on Lebanon and Syria to crack down on anti-Israeli groups operating on their soil, including the Lebanese Shiite Muslim group Hezbollah. Iran, a Shiite-majority country, is the group's main financial backer.

Khatami was met at the Beirut airport by Lebanese President Emile Lahoud, Prime Minister Rafik Hariri and Hezbollah deputy head Sheik Naim Kassem. Hezbollah is seen as a legitimate resistance movement in Lebanon, where it fought Israeli troops occupying southern Lebanon for 18 years.

After leaving south Lebanon, Israeli troops remained in a disputed border area.

"Iran will always stand by Lebanon and will support it in its struggle to liberate the remaining parts of its occupied territories," Khatami said, according to a statement from Lahoud's office. Later, Khatami met separately with Hariri and parliament speaker Nabih Berri. He did not meet with any Hezbollah officials, other than the greeting at the airport.

Asked if the talks with Khatami covered U.S. calls concerning Hezbollah, Hariri said: "We discussed the situation in general and the sensitive stage through which the region is currently passing and the need for coordination among the region's states in order to cross this stage safely and in peace." Khatami goes next to Syria on Wednesday.

He and Lahoud signed six bilateral agreements, including a $50-million loan from Iran.

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