The commander visits his troops. “Ahmadinejad boosts Hezbollah with Lebanon visit,” by Elizabeth A. Kennedy and Bassem Mroue for Associated Press, October 13 (thanks to Maxwell):
BEIRUT – Welcomed by thousands of Shiite supporters throwing rose petals, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad sought to pull Lebanon firmly into his country’s fold Wednesday in a visit that underscored the growing power of Tehran and its Lebanese ally, Hezbollah.
Ahmadinejad’s trip is a bold demonstration by Iran that it is undeterred by U.S. attempts to isolate it and roll back the clout Tehran has built up around the Middle East through its alliances with militant groups like Hezbollah and its accelerating nuclear program.
It also underlines the eroding position of the West’s allies in the country. While he was greeted with joy by many Shiites, Ahmadinejad’s dramatic arrival only exacerbates fears among many Lebanese that Iran and Hezbollah are seeking to impose their will on the country and possibly pull Lebanon into a conflict with Israel.
Standing alongside Lebanese President Michel Suleiman at a press conference, the Iranian leader sought to depict his country as an ally of the entire nation — not just the Shiite Hezbollah movement.
“We seek a unified, modern Lebanon, and we will stand with the people and government of Lebanon — and with all elements in the Lebanese nation — until they achieve all their goals,” Ahmadinejad said, adding that both countries oppose Israeli aggression.
“We completely support the Lebanese people’s fight against the Zionist enemy,” he said.
The U.S., Israel and Western-leaning Lebanese expressed concern over Ahmadinejad’s two-day visit, saying support for Hezbollah militants undermines Lebanese sovereignty. “We reject any efforts to destabilize or inflame tensions within Lebanon,” U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said. “We would hope that no visitor would do anything or say anything that would give cause to greater tension or instability in that country.”
Allies of the Western-backed, mainly Sunni parties that hold a slim majority in parliament were showing their worries over Ahmadinejad’s presence.
A group of 250 politicians, lawyers and activists wrote an open letter to Ahmadinejad, criticizing his support of Hezbollah.
“Your talk of ‘changing the face of the region starting with Lebanon’ and ‘wiping Israel off the map through the force of the Islamic Resistance in Lebanon’ … makes it seem like your visit is that of a high commander to his front line,” the letter said….