TEHRAN, Iran – Iran's supreme leader has rejected any ruling by a U.N.-backed tribunal investigating the 2005 assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri even before the verdict has been issued.
The tribunal based in the Netherlands is expected to imminently indict members of Lebanon's Hezbollah — one of Iran's major allies in the Middle East. The Shiite militant group controls a military force that is more powerful than Lebanon's national army and it is also part of the country's fragile governing coalition.
"This tribunal is a rubber stamp court," said Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has the final say on all state matters in Iran. "Any verdict it may issue is null and void," state television quoted him as saying on Monday. "I hope the influential parties involved in Lebanon will act based on wisdom and logic so that this issue doesn't turn into a problem."
He spoke during a meeting with Qatar's Emir, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani Monday, state television reported.
In Washington, State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said the U.S. would not attempt to influence the decision of the tribunal. Referring to the Iranian position, he said, "We regret that there are many in the region who have chosen to politicize the work of the tribunal."
Hariri, a Sunni Muslim, was Lebanon's most prominent politician in the years after the 1975-1990 civil war. He and 22 other people were killed by a truck bomb on Feb. 14, 2005. At the time, he was trying to limit the influence of Syria — another Iran and Hezbollah ally — in Lebanon.
Lebanon's fragile government has been struggling ahead of the expected indictments by the tribunal. Speculation that Hezbollah members will be indicted has fueled fears of a new political crisis and violence in Lebanon, and raised concerns over what Iran might do.
During a visit to Iran last month, Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri expressed concerns for stability in the Middle East and sought Iran's support for his efforts to keep Lebanon stable amid tensions over the U.N. probe into the assassination of his father.
Hezbollah leader Sheik Hassan Nasrallah has said he expects members of his group to be indicted, but has accused the court of bias. The group has fiercely denied any role in the killing, and Nasrallah has said the group "will cut off the hand" of anyone who tries to arrest any of its members.
Iran, whose ties to Hezbollah date back nearly 30 years, allegedly funds the militant group to the tune of millions of dollars a year and is suspected of supplying much of its arsenal.