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Iranian President Khatami Visits Lebanon - 2003-05-12

Iranian President Mohammed Khatami is in Beirut on the first visit by an Iranian leader to Lebanon since his country's 1979 Islamic revolution.

Iranian President Mohammed Khatami received a rousing welcome, complete with military music and a 21-gun salute as Lebanon's top leaders came to greet him at Beirut Airport.

Tens of thousands of enthusiastic people also thronged the Iranian president's motorcade along the road into Beirut. Lebanon's Shiite Muslim parties also welcomed Mr. Khatami, with supporters waving banners and greeting him with rice and rose petals.

Shiite Muslims make up Lebanon's largest religious community, and the overwhelming majority of Iran's population is also Shiite.

Beirut's Future Television suggested one of the main reasons for the Iranian president's visit was to persuade Hezbollah guerillas based in Lebanon to stop attacks on Israel. Hezbollah has held large swathes of the border region since Israeli troops withdrew from a self-proclaimed Security Zone in June 2000.

During a recent visit to Lebanon and Syria, Secretary of State Colin Powell insisted Hezbollah be disarmed and the Lebanese Army deployed along the country's border with Israel.

Although Lebanon's president, Emile Lahud, has repeatedly said he has no plans to deploy the Lebanese army along the border, there are reports in the Beirut press that some army forces are already stationed in key places there.

While in Lebanon, the Iranian president is also expected to meet with Lebanon's Maronite Christian Patriarch in a bid to discuss differences between Christians and Muslims.