Iran snubbed in bid to lead Syria peace effort
TEHRAN — Iran on Thursday hosted a conference on the war in Syria in a bid to take over the role of brokering peace in its Arab ally, but key players in the conflict declined to attend.
Represented at the conference were Venezuela, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iraq, while Russian reports said Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov would not attend. Moscow’s ambassador to Tehran sat in. So-called Friends of Syria states, including the US, France, the UK and Germany, did not attend, as well as Kuwait, Lebanon and Algeria.
Iran, a steadfast ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime, wants to name a replacement for Kofi Annan, who resigned on August 2 as the United Nations (UN)-Arab special envoy in the crisis.
Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi said his country was attempting to revive parts of Mr Annan’s plan, notably implementing a ceasefire, sending humanitarian aid and laying the groundwork for national dialogue in Syria.
Tehran opposes demands for Mr Assad to hand over power to a representative government. "Military means alone will not end the crisis, and a political agenda that is neither inclusive nor comprehensive will also fail," Mr Salehi wrote in a Washington Post opinion piece ahead of the meeting. It would be an "illusion" to think an orderly power transition could happen "should President Assad abruptly fall".
Iran has courted stronger ties with Russia and Venezuela in an effort to shift the global balance of power away from the US and European Union as China strives to increase its regional sphere of influence over Association of Southeast Asian Nations member states.
Shiite Iran’s stance on Syria hews to that of Russia, which along with China has blocked three attempts in the UN Security Council to impose sanctions on Mr Assad’s regime over its crackdown on the rebels. Tehran and Moscow believe Mr Assad’s government has been unfairly singled out by western criticism, and that the rebels’ role has been glossed over.
More than 21,000 people are said to have died in Syria since the uprising started in March last year.
Mr Annan, when he announced he was stepping down, said Mr Assad would go "sooner or later". He blamed " finger-pointing and name-calling" in the Security Council for undermining his mission.
In Syria, the ground assault on Aleppo, the country’s second-biggest city, intensified on Thursday. Mr Assad sent in tanks and soldiers to crush rebels of the Free Syrian Army. By midday a rebel commander said fighters were withdrawing under the military barrage. Mr Assad must win the battle for Aleppo if he is to reassert his authority nationwide.
He appointed Health Minister Wael al-Halki as prime minister on Thursday, after the defection earlier this week of prime minister Riyad Hijab. Like Mr Hijab, Mr Halki is from Syria’s Sunni Muslim majority. Sunnis have been the driving force of the uprising.