Beirut (Reuters) – The global community should help Lebanon rather than impose its will on the country, Iran’s foreign minister said in Beirut on Friday, following the catastrophic blast at the city’s port that killed 172 people and forced the government to resign.
Iran backs Lebanon’s militant group Hezbollah, which along with its allies helped form the outgoing government. The United States classifies Hezbollah as a terrorist group.
Mohammed Javad Zarif was speaking after meeting President Michel Aoun, who had earlier met U.S. and French officials in a flurry of Western diplomacy that has focused on urging Lebanon to fight corruption and enact long-delayed reforms to unlock foreign financial aid to tackle its economic crisis.
“There should be international efforts to help Lebanon, not to impose anything on it,” Zarif said in televised comments.
“It is not humane to exploit the pain and suffering of the people for political goals,” he said, adding that the Lebanese and their representatives should decide on the country’s future.
Iran is seen as a major player in Lebanon through backing, arming and funding Hezbollah, established by the Revolutionary Guards in 1982. The most powerful group in Lebanon, Hezbollah exercises major sway over government.
Its role has led U.S.-allied Gulf Arab states in recent years to end financial support for Lebanon.
Visiting U.S. Under-Secretary of State for Political Affairs David Hale said in televised comments later on Friday that Lebanon needs a government that “genuinely commits to and acts for real change”.
He said concerted efforts were needed to root out corruption, enact financial and economic reforms, establish state control over ports and borders and revamp the power sector.
Lebanese had been staging angry protests against a political elite blamed for the country’s many woes even before the Aug. 4. blast, which injured 6,000, damaged swathes of the city and left 300,000 homeless. Some 30 people remain missing.
French Defence Minister Florence Parly, who also met Aoun, called for the formation of a government capable of taking “courageous decisions”.
International humanitarian aid has poured in but foreign states have linked financial assistance to reform of the Lebanese state, which has defaulted on its huge sovereign debts.
Zarif said Tehran and private Iranian firms were ready to help with rebuilding and rehabilitating the electricity sector.
The explosion sharpened anger at the authorities.
“We can’t live like this. The West has to pressure our leaders to save us,” said Iyaam Ghanem, a Beirut pharmacist.
Calls for Justice
Hale has said the FBI will join a probe into the blast at a hangar in the port where Lebanese authorities say more than 2,000 tonnes of ammonium nitrate that detonated had been stored for years without safety measures.
Aoun told Hale on Friday that Beirut needed help to “understand the circumstances” under which the nitrate shipment came into the port and was unloaded, an official statement said.
The president has said the probe will look into whether the cause was negligence, an accident or “external interference”.
Victims and their representatives told reporters that only an independent probe would deliver justice, appealing to the U.N. Security Council for an international investigation.
“Is it acceptable that people find their homes shattered, their families killed, their hopes and their dreams killed, with no justice,” said Paul Najjar, whose three-year-old daughter Alexandra died in the blast.
State news agency NNA said questioning of some ministers due on Friday had been postponed as the judge appointed for the task said he did not have authority to question government ministers.
The cabinet resignation has fuelled uncertainty. Agreement on a new government will likely be very difficult in a country with deep factional rifts and a sectarian power-sharing system.
Senior Christian cleric Maronite Patriarch Bechara Boutros Al-Rai, without naming countries, said a new Lebanon was being “cooked in (foreign) kitchens” to serve politicians’ interests.