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Karim Traboulsi

Lebanon's mixed reaction to Iran nuclear deal

Major powers and Iran struck a historic deal on Tuesday [Getty]

Date of publication: 15 July, 2015

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Lebanon leading figures had a mixed reaction to the historic deal reached between world powers and Iran over the latter’s nuclear activities.
Lebanon, a country split down the middle on almost every issue, has produced mixed reactions to the historic deal reached between world powers and Iran over the latter’s nuclear activities.

The major powers struck the historic deal on Tuesday on the 18th day of marathon talks.

Lebanon's main factions are the pro-Iranian March 8, dominated by Shia Hizballah and the Christian Free Patriotic Movement (FPM), and pro-Saudi March 14, dominated by the Sunni Future Movement and Christian forces such as the Phalanges Party and the Lebanese Forces.
     Lebanon will reap the fruits of the agreement especially if tensions between Saudi Arabia and Iran are eased as a result

Many believe the country’s leaders, due to their foreign alliances, are more likely to compromise if tensions between their patrons – from Washington to Tehran via Riyadh and Damascus – are eased.

Politicians from March 8 welcomed the deal, which will offer Iran sanctions relief in return for curbs on its nuclear programme, suggesting it will have positive implications for Lebanon’s political crisis and tensions in the Middle East.

Nabih Berri, parliament speaker and leader of the Shia Amal movement allied to Hizballah, contacted Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamanei to offer his congratulations.

Berri said Lebanon and Yemen would be the first to benefit from the détente.

The speaker, who stressed the positive results would take time before coming to Lebanon, was suggesting the de-escalation among world and regional powers could bring rival Lebanese factions closer to a deal of their own on various issues of contention in the country – most notably the presidential vacuum.

Although no official comment has yet come from Hizballah, unnamed sources close to the party were quoted by local newspapers as saying the deal a “victory for the resistance camp and a major shift in international relations with implications for the entire region.”

The sources said Lebanon will reap the fruits of the agreement especially if tensions between Saudi Arabia and Iran are eased as a result.

Peace and security

Lebanon’s Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil, who is affiliated to the FPM and March 8, hoped the agreement would foster a climate of peace and security in Lebanon and the Middle East, and boost efforts against terrorism in the region.

The Lebanese Foreign Ministry’s official statement also hoped the deal would be a first step towards making the Middle East a WMD-free region, in reference to Israel’s nuclear weapons arsenal.

Others from the March 8 coalition echoed this optimism, many seeing the deal a “triumph” for Iran.

Prime Minister Tammam Salam, expressed hope that the nuclear agreement would have a positive effect on the Middle East, and help de-escalate tensions and encourage peace and prosperity, according to a statement from his office.

Former President Michel Suleiman, for his part, suggested on his twitter account that the deal should encourage the Lebanese to elect a president.

From March 14, the Future Movement parliamentary bloc issued a statement following its weekly meeting cautiously echoing the optimism of March 8 regarding the positive implications in the region, though the statement did not single out Lebanon as a possible beneficiary.

The Future bloc expressed hope the agreement would encourage Iran to turn over a new page and improve ties with other Arab countries.

Iran must use the opportunity to end its policy of meddling in the internal affairs of Arab states, the Future bloc statement added.

Adding fuel to the fire?

Not all in March 14 saw the agreement as good news, however.

Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea, who is considered a hawk on the Iranian and the Syrian regimes, said the deal could exacerbate tensions in the Middle East.

Geagea said the deal will add fuel to the fires of the region, cautioning against too much optimism.

In turn, Druze MP Wald Jumblatt, a former member of March 14 who now defines himself as an independent, told local press that he was not optimistic the deal would lead to breakthroughs in Lebanon.

“The path to the deal was paved with hundreds of thousands of casualties in Syria and Iraq,” he said, in reference to Iran’s controversial role in these two countries.

The Lebanese media and public opinion echoed these views, with a flurry of speculations about what the nuclear agreement exactly means for Lebanon and its chronic political crisis.

Though optimism was a common theme, many questioned whether the deal would spell a grand bargain in Lebanon, which they believe will remain in political limbo until the conflict in neighbouring Syria is resolved one way or the other.

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