WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The White House said on Wednesday that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s visit to Lebanon showed he was continuing his “provocative ways” while leading his country to economic distress and international sanctions.
Ahmadinejad used his visit to Beirut to assure the Lebanese that Iran would stand by them against what he called hostilities from neighboring Israel, Iran’s arch-foe in the region.
“He continues his provocative ways ... even as he leaves his country further in economic distress and turmoil as a result of his actions that have led to international sanctions that are having great impact,” White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said when asked about the trip and Ahmadinejad’s plan to travel close to Lebanon’s border with Israel on Thursday.
Lebanon’s hosting of Ahmadinejad has raised concerns in Washington, which is seeking to isolate Tehran over its nuclear program and condemns its support for Lebanese Hezbollah militants.
Gibbs said Ahmadinejad’s visit also “suggests that Hezbollah values its allegiance to Iran over its allegiance to Lebanon.”
Ahmadinejad, making the first official state visit by an Iranian president to Lebanon, was given a tumultuous welcome by thousands of Shi’ite Muslims who lined the road from the airport, throwing rice and flower petals at his motorcade.
The hardline leader has outraged the international community not only with his defiant stand on Iran’s nuclear activities but with fierce rhetoric against the United States and Israel and his persistent questioning of the Holocaust.
Reporting by Matt Spetalnick; Editing by Eric Beech