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Lebanese PM's Iran Visit Focuses on Hariri Assassination

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, right, waves to the media, as he walks up the steps with Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri, prior to their meeting at the Iranian Foreign Ministry, in Tehran, Nov. 28, 2010.

Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri met with top Iranian officials Sunday during a three day visit to Tehran in what the Arab press is billing as a fence-mending trip. The trip comes as a special U.N. tribunal prepares to release its findings into the 2005 assassination on his father, former Prime Minster Rafik Hariri.

Iranian state TV stressed the importance of Prime Minister Hariri's visit to Tehran, downplaying talk of a conflict in Lebanon between rival Shi'ite and Sunni political factions.

Mr. Hariri thanked Iran for what he called its support in times of trouble. He said Lebanon thanks Iran for standing next to it on the political front during difficult moments, and he says that he hopes for good relations between both countries.

In Lebanon, Hezbollah, the Shi'ite political party and militant group, has been trying to pressure the Lebanese government, including Prime Minister Hariri, to disavow an international tribunal, which has been investigating the 2005 assassination of his father, veteran former Prime Minister Rafiq al Hariri.

A recent Canadian Broadcasting Corporation report aroused the ire of Hezbollah, after it disclosed what appeared to be tribunal documents linking the group to telephones used by the alleged assassins.

Prime Minsiter Hariri was quoted by the Iranian press agency IRNA as saying Hezbollah members may have been involved in his father's assassination, but that he was not accusing the group as a whole.

Lebanese Information Minister Tarek Mitri avoided discussing the internal conflict with Hezbollah, stressing instead the strengthening of ties between Beirut and Tehran: He said that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's recent visit to Lebanon underscored the importance of ties between both countries, and Prime Minister Hariri's visit to Iran will further strengthen cooperation and seal accords recently agreed upon.

Hezbollah leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah urged his political rivals Sunday to "find a solution" to the international tribunal investigation before it issued any accusations. He also appealed to regional power-brokers like Qatar, Iran and Saudi Arabia to help mediate the conflict.

Professor Khattar Abou Diab, who teaches international relations at the University of Paris, thinks that Saudi Arabia may have advised Prime Minister Hariri to make the visit to Tehran to seek Iranian help in avoiding sectarian strife inside Lebanon.

He said Mr. Hariri may have been advised by his Saudi allies to make a gesture toward Iran to ask it to rein in its ally Hezbollah before any conflict erupts. He suggests that Tehran, which is in a difficult position internationally, may try to pressure Hezbollah to avoid another conflict.

Iranian TV showed Prime Minister Hariri and Defense Minister Ahmad Vahidi touring an exposition of Iranian military hardware.