Syria: Iran tries to hijack international diplomacy to defend Assad
Tehran will today host a summit of Iran-friendly foreign ministers in an attempt to wrest the international focus away from calls for Bashar al-Assad to step down.
Iran accuses Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar of arming the opposition in Syria, in collusion with the United States and Israel, to overthrow Assad.
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the Iranian President has billed the meeting of a dozen unnamed countries as an opportunity “to replace military clashes with political, indigenous approaches to settle the disputes”.
Those attending would be countries with “a correct and realistic position” on the Syrian conflict, a senior Iranian diplomat said, indicating that no pro-opposition nation would be present.
Ali Akbar Salehi, the Iranian Foreign Minister said his country was attempting to revive parts of Mr Annan’s plan, notably: implementing a ceasefire, sending humanitarian aid, and laying groundwork for national dialogue in Syria.
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In an article in the Washington Post, Mr Salehi argued that it was an “illusion” to think that an orderly power transition could happen “should President Bashar al-Assad abruptly fall.”
“I hereby announce Iran’s readiness to host a meeting of countries committed to immediately implementing these steps in hopes of ending the violence,” he wrote.
“Military means alone won’t end the crisis, and a political agenda that is neither inclusive nor comprehensive will also fail… Iran seeks a solution that is in the interest of everyone.”
The official Iranian media said “12 to 13 countries from Asia, Africa and Latin America” would take part in the “consultative” meeting.
But the move risks backfiring on Iran after several of the invited foreign ministers have sent their regrets.
Kuwait has officially told Iran it would not be attending, foreign ministry undersecretary Khaled al-Jarallah told Al-Seyassah newspaper.
A Lebanese diplomatic official said that his country would not be represented because of its policy of “restraint” in the Syrian conflict.
Iran’s official IRNA news agency said Algerian Foreign Minister Mourad Medelci would not travel “due to a very busy workload.” His deputy foreign minister would go instead.
And Russian reports relayed in Iran suggested Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov would also not make it. But they said Russia’s ambassador to Tehran would sit in.
Western diplomats have dismissed the conference as an attempt to divert attention away from bloody events on the ground and to preserve the rule of Assad’s brutal regime.
“The Islamic Republic’s support for Assad’s regime is hardly compatible with a genuine attempt at conciliation between the parties,” said one Western diplomat based in Tehran.
It showed Iran was “running out of ideas”, he added. Another Western diplomat said Tehran was trying to broaden the support base of the Syrian leader.
Along with Russia and China, Iran has strongly supported Assad whose forces have launched crushing operations against anti-government protesters and armed opposition groups since the crisis erupted 17 months ago.
As Syria spirals deeper into a full-scale civil war, Western delegations at the UN are increasingly sceptical about the value of appointing a replacement for Mr Annan as the UN-Arab League mediator in the conflict.
When he announced his departure last week, Mr Annan, a former UN secretary-general and Nobel Peace Prize laureate, said he was not able to carry out his job with the UN Security Council’s veto powers hopelessly deadlocked.
Russia is backing Damascus, while the US, Britain and France are calling for Assad to stand down.
That deadlock persists and complicates the question of whether UN political mediation is needed at the moment.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said he was in discussions with Arab League chief Nabil Elaraby on a possible successor to ensure that the diplomatic track is kept open. Several UN officials said an announcement could come as early as Friday.
Russia, which expressed regret that Mr Annan chose to step down, is also determined to have someone replace him to keep a UN-led diplomatic track open. Other council members such as China, South Africa and Pakistan agree with Moscow.
But the Americans, council diplomats say, see little point in replacing Mr Annan. They had grown increasingly frustrated with the veteran diplomat’s refusal to step aside after it became clear that Russian President Vladimir Putin would continue to veto any attempt to impose UN sanctions on Damascus to force it to end the onslaught against an increasingly militarised opposition.
The Obama administration is instead moving, albeit cautiously, to increase its backing for anti-Assad rebels.
“The Americans gave up on the Security Council route back in October after Russia’s first veto and have unenthusiastically supported the European push in New York since then,” one council envoy said on condition of anonymity. “They also feel Annan took too long to concede failure.”
Despite European public statements of support for Ban’s determination to replace Mr Annan, some European diplomats privately voiced scepticism about appointing someone to a job that appears headed for failure.
“Who’s going to take that job?” one council diplomat said. “If Annan couldn’t succeed, who else could? It’s a lost cause at the moment, though that could change in the future. Assad could fall any day and no one would be surprised.”
UN officials say that Annan’s replacement must be someone of similar stature. Among the names circulating at the United Nations as possible replacements for Annan, envoys told Reuters, are two Spaniards – former Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos and former EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana.
Source: Reuters and AFP