Russian diplomat: Lebanon a warm-up for U.S.-Iran clash

By Reuters

Reuters

Elul 13, 5766

The United States used Israel's attack on Hezbollah in Lebanon as a prelude to "settling accounts" with Iran, a senior Russian diplomat told Interfax news agency on Wednesday.

Vladimir Trofimov, deputy head of the foreign ministry's Middle East department, made the comments the day before Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov begins a visit to the Middle East that will include Israel.

"If we look at Israeli and U.S. plans, they aim at removing the Hezbollah factor ahead of the forthcoming U.S. settling of accounts with Iran," Trofimov said.

"This was a U.S.-Israeli conflict with the Islamic world, in which Iran has become a de-facto leader," he added. Trofimov, who has a record of making off-the-cuff remarks, was speaking at an informal round table discussion in Moscow.

Israel and the United States have said Tehran supplies arms and cash to Hezbollah.

U.S. President George W. Bush has refused to rule out military action against Iran over its nuclear program.

Israel launched its offensive on Lebanon after Hezbollah killed eight soldiers and abducted two in a July 12 border raid.

A fragile truce was brokered by the United Nations and came into effect on August 14.

Russia has acknowledged Israel's right to defend itself against Hezbollah attacks, but was critical of its offensive in Lebanon.

Lavrov is to visit Israel, the Palestinian territories, Lebanon and Syria between September 7 and 8.

In a newspaper interview published on Wednesday, he implicitly criticized Israel's calls to destroy Hezbollah and said it should instead be engaged in political dialogue.

"Hezbollah is a part of the Shi'ite community in Lebanon," Lavrov told government daily Rossiiskaya Gazeta.

The United States has been pressing Russia to give up its resistance to sanctions against Iran, which is suspected of trying to create nuclear weapons. Iran denies such plans and says its nuclear program is peaceful.

Russia has backed a UN resolution threatening economic sanctions against Iran if it fails to halt its nuclear program. Iran has said it will never abandon its right to nuclear technology.

But Lavrov said on Wednesday that the resolution ruled out the use of force against Iran.