BEIRUT, Lebanon — Without any stated reason or announced goal, on May 18, Ali Akbar Velayati, an adviser to Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, arrived in Beirut for a two-day visit. Velayati, who is a former minister of foreign affairs, met with a number of officials, including Lebanese Prime Minister Tammam Salam, the speaker of parliament, Nabih Berri, and Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil. Velayati made press statements that included nothing of note aside from his announcement that his country is proud of what Hezbollah fighters had achieved in their battle against terrorist militants in the Qalamoun area between Lebanon and Syria, during which Hezbollah made great advances between May 5 and May 16.
However, one of those who met with the Iranian official during his visit to Lebanon, speaking on condition of anonymity, confirmed to Al-Monitor that Velayati came bearing a few specific and concise messages. First, according to the source, he noted that his country is heading toward a fixed agreement with the Americans on the nuclear issue, without revealing any details in this regard, neither about the content of the agreement nor its potential results. However, Velayati was keen to stress two things to his hosts about this issue: First, the time needed to ratify the Iranian-US agreement could be relatively long, and may take more than a matter of weeks. Second, this agreement will not include any Iranian concessions on regional issues that concern Tehran, according to Velayati.
From this angle, the Iranian official addressed the subject of Syria in his dialogues in Beirut. He stressed that any talk about a potential deal entered into by Tehran at the expense of its ally, President Bashar al-Assad, in Damascus was untrue. Velayati expressed his belief that the military situation of the Syrian government on the ground was good, especially following the progress made by the Syrian army and Hezbollah fighters in the Syrian and Lebanese parts of the Qalamoun region.
Velayati, according to the source, noted Tehran’s confidence that the coming period will witness more military progress for the Syrian army in its confrontations with militants. He seemed certain that the army would succeed in regaining control of Idlib and Jisr al-Shughur in northern Syria in the near future, pointing out that this will be accompanied by a series of similar steps achieved by the so-called “axis of resistance” throughout the region. Meanwhile, other victories will be made in Iraq and the counter-axis will face setbacks in Yemen, according to the source.
Reiterating Iran’s interpretation, the Iranian official told his interlocutors that the election of a new president in Lebanon would not be affected by any external factors in the foreseeable future. This means that no non-Lebanese party, whether regional or international, will be able to apply pressure to direct the Lebanese presidential elections in the manner it wants or in a way that serves its interests. Thus, Velayati advised those he met with to not bet on time or external variables, but rather to work toward a Lebanese-Lebanese agreement that leads to the election of a new president.
These statements that the Lebanese hosts attributed to Velayati were confirmed to Al-Monitor by a diplomatic source in the Iranian Embassy in Beirut who accompanied the adviser throughout his visit. The source, who requested anonymity, said that Tehran stresses and reiterates that Lebanese issues must be approached, dealt with, and resolved by the Lebanese, and that Iran does not interfere in such a way. The source added that, in this context, Velayati was keen to meet with all groups of Lebanese society during his visit to Beirut in order to send a message that Tehran is a friend to all Lebanese. Velayati met the Sunni prime minister, the Shiite speaker of parliament, and the most prominent Christian leader, Michel Aoun. However, the source noted that he did not meet with the Druze component, as the representative for the majority of the Druze, member of parliament Walid Jumblatt, is traveling and will not return to Beirut before Velayati leaves.
Despite the reports from Velayati’s hosts, and despite what was revealed by the Iranian diplomat, there is still an impression in Beirut that the true reason for the visit and its primary goal lie in two points that have gone unannounced. First, what the Iranian guest discussed in his meeting — far removed from the media — with Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah. And second, what Velayati was to discuss in Damascus during his meeting with Assad, as he traveled there from Beirut on May 19.
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