The government of Iran has strongly rejected a round of news stories claiming it was ready to compromise its support for the regime of Bashar Assad in Syria.
In addition to declaring its unwavering support for Syrian “democracy,” the Iranians blasted the United States and its allies for supporting Syrian rebel groups and prolonging that nation’s civil war.
The notion that Tehran might consider Assad’s survival negotiable stems from comments made by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who said over the weekend, “The solution to the Syrian question is elections, and for this it is necessary to stop military and financial aid to the opposition.”
The idea that elections might be held to find a successor to Assad was reinforced by rumors that Iran was agreeable to the dictator’s departure as part of a negotiated conclusion to the Syrian civil war, with Assad remaining in office only until a six-month “transition” period was concluded.
The Kurdish Rudaw news agency reports Iran’s foreign ministry denying these rumors. “We have shown no compromise in these talks,” Deputy Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian is quoted saying on Iranian television, referring to meetings between 17 countries held in Vienna over the weekend.
Addressing rumors that Tehran might agree to Assad stepping down, Amir-Abdollahian said, “In this meeting Iran did not allow such a thing because other countries should not even mention what is essentially the right of the Syrian people themselves to decide.”
He added that discussing “people’s positions would not serve anyone,” to quash the notion that Assad stepping down would be the first step in ending the Syrian conflict.
Amir-Abdollahian accused the international community of wasting time by holding meetings to discuss Syria that did not include its powerful Iranian patron. “In the last five years there have been meetings with various countries about the situation in Syria but because Iran was not present in those meetings no solution was ever found,” the deputy foreign minister declared.
“Top diplomats from 17 countries, including Iran, as well as the United Nations and the European Union, attended the unprecedented talks on Friday, though the Syrian regime and the opposition were not represented,” Reuters said of the conference in Vienna. “They sought common ground over a conflict that has claimed a quarter of a million lives and triggered an exodus of refugees to Europe.”
Present at the meeting were both U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. The U.S. has financially supported, armed, and trained various Syrian rebel groups over the past few years, while Russia recently began bombing those groups in support of the Assad regime. According to Reuters, Kerry and Lavrov “agreed that Syria must emerge from the conflict as a unified secular state” but disagreed over whether Assad should step down immediately.
“The West and Gulf monarchies led by Saudi Arabia want Assad to step down, but Russia and Iran insist he has a right to play a role in an eventual transition towards a mooted unity government and later elections,” Reuters adds.
Based on the Iranian foreign ministry’s comments, a further point of disagreement is that Iran claims to desire a new round of elections in Syria but insists Assad must be a legitimate participant in those elections, rather than a deposed dictator supervising a brief transition to multi-party democracy.
Critics, of course, suspect Assad would have little trouble rounding up as many votes as he needed to remain in power. There were actually elections held in Syria recently—June 2014, to be exact—and the dictator won 88.7 percent of the vote. Syrian opposition groups and the international community derided the elections as a farce, noting that Assad faced only a couple of regime-approved no-name candidates who served as little more than props in a theatrical event.