TEHRAN — Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei told visiting Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri on Monday that he should strengthen his ties with the Shiite group Hezbollah.
The website of Khamenei's office said he was "pleased" that Hariri and Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah currently had good ties, adding "these relations must be more consolidated."
His comment came a day after Iran's Defence Minister Ahmad Vahidi criticised a UN tribunal probing the 2005 assassination of Hariri's father, former premier Rafiq Hariri, while condemning his killers as "enemies of Lebanon."
The tribunal is expected to implicate high-ranking Hezbollah officials in the murder, but the party has warned against this, prompting fears of sectarian conflict between Hariri's Sunni supporters and Hezbollah.
Ahead of the visit, a Lebanese ministerial source told AFP that Hariri hoped Iran would help to reconcile his pro-Western camp and Hezbollah.
"As long as the occupying Zionist regime exists, Lebanon needs resistance," Khamenei said in reference to archfoe Israel.
"The only element of deterrence against the occupying Zionist regime is the element of resistance," he was quoted as saying.
Hariri is on the third and final day of an official visit to Iran, a staunch backer of Hezbollah. He had been told on Sunday by Vahidi that Tehran was prepared to help the Lebanese army.
"We have stated on several occasions, and we say it again today, that we stand alongside the Lebanese army and are prepared to cooperate" with it, Vahidi said.
The United States, which accuses Iran of interference in Lebanon, this month lifted a freeze on 100 million dollars in US military aid to Lebanon.
Khamenei echoed comments by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in a meeting on Sunday, during which the Iranian president called for the Beirut government and Hezbollah to work together against Israel.
"If the government and the resistance form part of the same front, this country will follow the path of greatness and development, and the Zionist regime will not be able to do it the least harm," Khamenei said.
The supreme leader also warned Hariri not to fall in the trap of sectarian violence.
"Lebanon is a multi-confessional nations which followers of many religions have lived among one another in peace but some try to make sectarian conflict thus one has to stand against such intentions," he said without elaborating.
Khamenei's office also quoted Hariri as telling him that, "the most important aim of Lebanon is to keep and consolidate national unity and resisting against the aggression. Any kind of division will benefit Israel."
Speaking at a joint news conference with the Iranian first vice-president Mohammad Reza Rahimi, Hariri said "the visit bore good and beneficial political results. We have solid ties with the Islamic republic".
"Lebanon will never join the circle of nations to put pressure on the Islamic republic and has always said no to these pressures and sanctions. Iran has right on peaceful nuclear technology," Hariri added.
Lebanon abstained in June during a Security Council meeting to adopt a resolution imposing a fourth set of sanctions on Iran vote, while Brazil and Turkey voted against it. Hezbollah denounced Beirut's move.
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