By Patrick Goodenough | August 13, 2015 | 4:24 AM EDT (CNSNews.com) – Secretary of State John Kerry noted this week that Iran’s foreign minister was visiting Lebanon, and he suggested the outreach was a sign that ostensible moderates in the Iranian government want a different, more positive role in the region. In fact Mohammad Javad Zarif’s agenda in Beirut included a meeting with the leader of the Hezbollah terrorist group, a call for Muslim countries to cooperate against major challenges including “the Zionist entity,” and – until it was postponed due to scheduling problems – a visit to the tomb of an arch-terrorist who was once on the FBI’s “most wanted” list. During an appearance at Thomson Reuters headquarters in New York on Tuesday, Kerry responded to criticism leveled against the Iran nuclear agreement, including concerns about doing a deal without pressing the regime to end its troubling activities in the region. He said the U.S. would continue pushing back against bad Iranian behavior, but then suggested that some in the Iranian government like Zarif and President Hasan Rouhani wanted something different. “I’m telling you this, given the experience that I’ve had for the last several years negotiating with them, they said to me, ‘If we can get this deal done, then we’re ready to sit down and talk about the regional issues and we may be able to work things in different places.’ “I just got a message today from my counterpart from Iran,” Kerry continued. “He’s in Beirut, meeting with the government officials there. You know where he was last weekend? He was in Kuwait and in Qatar. He’s reaching out to those countries. Are we going to turn our backs on the possibility that Rouhani and Zarif might, in fact, want to try to have a different –? He trailed off before adding, “I don’t know the answer, but I know we’ve got ample amount of time here within which we can put all of that to the test.” While Zarif did indeed meet with government officials in Beirut including Prime MinisterTammam Salam, other activities on the foreign minister’s itinerary were harder to align with Kerry’s inference that the visit should be seen as a positive sign. Ahead of the visit, Hezbollah announced that Zarif would visit the grave of the “great martyr” Imad Mugniyah, the head of Hezbollah’s security apparatus until he was killed in a 2008 bomb blast in Damascus which the group blames on Israel. Mugniyah was accused of links to attacks including the 1983 U.S. Marine barracks and U.S. Embassy bombings in Beirut, the kidnapping of Western hostages, a 1985 TWA hijacking in which U.S. Navy diver Robert Stethem was murdered – for which he was wanted by the FBI – and in the 1990s, the bombings of the Israeli Embassy and a Jewish community center in Argentina, and the Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia. Shortly before Zarif was due to visit his grave in Beirut’s southern suburbs on Tuesday afternoon, Hezbollah issued a statement saying the visit had been postponed until “a later opportunity” due to a tight schedule following a late-arriving flight. Iranian foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif lays a wreath at the Beirut grave of Hezbollah terrorist Imad Mugniyah in January 2014. (AP Photo, File)
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(Zarif has visited Mugniyah’s tomb in the past. When he laid a wreath at the grave early last year, a White House spokesperson said “the decision to commemorate an individual who participated in such vicious acts, and whose organization continues to actively support terrorism worldwide, sends the wrong message and will only exacerbate tensions in the region.” During an NBCNews interview last March, Zarif was asked about honoring Mugniyah. His lengthy and convoluted response included the lines “I’m not running for a popularity contest in the United States” and the assertion that Hezbollah fighters “are considered heroes in the entire Middle East.”) Despite the postponed visit to the grave Zarif did find time for an audience with Hezbollah leader Hasan Nasrallah. The Shi’ite group’s media relations office issued a photo of the meeting and a statement saying the two discussed latest developments in Lebanon and the region, including the nuclear agreement reached last month. One frequent criticism of the Iran nuclear deal is that the billions of dollars it will free up may boost the regime’s terror-sponsorship. Hezbollah, a U.S.-designated foreign terrorist organization, already receives some $200 million from Iran each year, in addition to weapons, logistics and equipment. Cooperate against ‘Zionist entity’ On his arrival at Beirut’s international airport, Zarif issued an appeal for “Muslim countries in the region to respond positively to Iran’s invitation to dialogue and cooperation for guaranteeing the interests of regional states and nations.” He identified “the Zionist entity, [Sunni] terrorism, extremism and violence as the major challenges” facing the region, Hezbollah’s al-Manar television station reported. It cited Zarif as saying that concluding the nuclear agreement with the U.S. and five other powers had “created a historic opportunity for regional cooperation to fight extremism and face threats posed by the Zionist entity.” The Hezbollah mouthpiece also noted that Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei had recently made clear that despite the nuclear agreement “the mujahedeen [holy warriors] in Lebanon and Palestine will always get our support.” Asked at Wednesday’s daily press briefing about Kerry’s remarks on Zarif’s Beirut visit, State Department spokesman Mark Toner said he did not want to parse Kerry’s words “without understanding the context.” “But my assumption, generally, would be that Zarif was also engaged in reaching out to the region. He’s already been doing so, talking about the [nuclear] deal and making efforts to convince them of the importance of this deal. With regard to Zarif’s comments in Beirut about the “Zionist entity,” Toner said, “just because we have reached agreement on a specific deal dealing with Iran’s nuclear ambitions – we have segmented that because it’s important that we not have a nuclear-capable Iran – but that doesn’t take away from all of our, all of our problems with Iran’s involvement in the region, and that includes, obviously, anti-Semitism and issues with Israel.” From Beirut, Zarif traveled to Damascus on Wednesday for talks with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, and then on to Islamabad, Pakistan early Thursday.
---Secretary of State John Kerry noted this week that Iran’s foreign minister was visiting Lebanon, and he suggested the outreach was a sign that ostensible moderates in the Iranian government want a different, more positive role in the region.--- ...