Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif warned that “Armageddon” could begin in Syria if a satisfactory peace agreement is not worked out soon. He proceeded to make it clear Iran will not accept the ouster of Syrian dictator Bashar Assad, making such a peace agreement much more difficult to negotiate.
The Armageddon envisioned by Zarif would take the form of national borders collapsing under stress from the Syrian conflict, through such scenarios as the Kurds assembling an independent state out of Turkish, Syrian, and Iraqi territory.
Coincidentally, Al-Jazeera reported on Wednesday that the Kurds are preparing to declare their own federal government in northern Syria, and would soon make a formal announcement to that effect. Al-Jazeera speculated the timing of these declarations was meant to express Kurdish displeasure with being left out of the peace talks currently under way in Geneva.
“Change in how we govern, change in how we interact with each other. That is what requires change. Changing borders will only make the situation worse. That will be the beginning – if you believe [in religious texts] – of Armageddon,” said Zarif during a speech at the Australian National University, as rendered by the Wall Street Journal.
As for Assad, Zarif said his future “will be decided by the Syrians at the negotiating table, not by us or the Turks or the Saudis or others.”
“I cannot accept people trying to decide the future without going through the negotiating process. Let’s stop the killing. Let’s stop the violence and let us determine the future through negotiation,” said the Iranian Foreign Minister.
Iran and Russia have often stated they would not support the removal of Assad by outside powers, even through the mechanism of a democratic election where Assad is not allowed to participate. This is, of course, a difficult demand for those who waged five years of bloody insurrection against the dictator to swallow.
Zarif was guardedly optimistic that Russia’s withdrawal of forces from Syria meant the war could be entering its final stage, although he added it was “too early to judge whether the start of peace talks meant the conflict had turned a corner,” according to the Wall Street Journal.
It is not an encouraging omen for the success of peace talks that Syria’s government flatly refused to meet with opposition leaders on Tuesday, denouncing them as “terrorists,” according to the BBC.
Zarif’s remarks in Canberra also addressed the ballistic missile showdown with the Obama Administration, which Iran appears to be winning handily, and the increasing tensions with Saudi Arabia that could result in a theater-wide Shiite-Sunni conflict, something that might just have a whiff of Armageddon about it, with enough escalation.
“We believe that there is no need for panic. We believe that Iran and Saudi Arabia can live together, should live together, have no other choice but to live together. We believe that we all have to exercise restraint and we hope that Saudi Arabia will come back to its senses,” said Zarif, choosing words that probably will not win applause in Riyadh.