Syria solution not just about Assad, Iran says

  • 12/11/2015
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani (Reuters)
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani (Reuters)

Iran's president says any resolution of the Syrian conflict must focus on the need for a strong government in Damascus, and not only on the fate of President Bashar al-Assad.

It is "not a question of a person, it is a question of security and stability", Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said an interview with French media though he did not mention Assad by name.

"We must all make efforts to eradicate terrorism in Syria and ensure that peace and stability return," he said in the interview, also broadcast on Europe 1 radio.

As for who should run the country, "it is all in the hands of the Syrians. It is for them to decide who is their leader," said Rouhani on Wednesday (local time).

Rouhani's comments come ahead of a new round of international talks on Syria in Vienna on Saturday.

The talks will bring together around 20 countries and international bodies to try to agree on a roadmap for peace that would include a ceasefire between Assad's forces and some opposition groups.

"What country has managed to fight terrorism without a strong state to fight terrorism," said Rouhani.

"We must first of all, in Syria, eradicate terrorism. It is the first priority... We must create security to that the people can come home."

Meanwhile, Western officials dismissed a Russian plan for political reform, with Britain's UN envoy saying it would not be a focal point of the meeting.

A Western source in Beirut told AFP the talks would aim for broad international agreement on opposition representatives to discuss a political transition with Assad's regime.

"Each country will be able to submit names which will then have to be reduced to between 20 and 25 people to be divided into two commissions, one on political reforms and the other on security," the source said.

"But everything won't be decided on Saturday; it will take time for everyone to come together," the source said.

A European diplomat posted in Beirut said an international preparatory commission is to start work from Thursday on pulling together the opposition lists as well as on which rebel groups in Syria are to be classified as "terrorist" organisations.

The distinction has been a source of contention between Assad supporters, such as Russia and Iran, and opposition backers in the West and the Arab world.

Russia has submitted a 38-person list, including three former heads of the exiled opposition National Coalition and its current president, Khaled al-Khoja, according to the Western source.

Two representatives of Syria's regime-tolerated domestic opposition and two Muslim Brotherhood members also figure on the Russian list, the source said.

Saudi Arabia had put forward 20 names and Egypt 10, the source said.

A member of the National Coalition criticised the process as serving regional interests over those of the Syrian people.

"Each state wants to send its representatives in the name of the Syrian opposition," said Samir Nachar.

"It's regrettable that the choice does not represent the interests of the Syrian people, and this process will not lead to a settlement of the Syrian crisis," he said.

Neither representatives of the regime nor opposition are expected to attend at this stage of the dialogue.