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Taking the lead on Syria

By Ali Akbar Salehi,

Ali Akbar Salehi is foreign minister of the Islamic Republic of Iran.

We humans often make the mistake of not learning from history, even when it is recent. Civil war in the Levant is not a thing of the distant past. With Syria descending into worsening violence, the 15-year Lebanese civil war should provide frightening lessons of what happens when the fabric of a society unravels.

When the Islamic Awakening — also known as the Arab Spring — began in December 2010, we all saw people rising up to claim their rights. We have witnessed the emergence of civic movements demanding freedom, democracy, dignity and self-determination.

We in Tehran have watched these developments with delight. After all, a civic movement demanding the same things that many Arabs want today is what led to the emergence of our Islamic Republic in 1979. During the past three decades, Iran has consistently underlined that it is the duty of all governments to respect their people’s demands. We have maintained this position as the Islamic Awakening has unfolded, without any lopsided shifts depending on the location of these civic movements. We have been in favor of change to meet people’s demands, whether in Syria or Egypt or anywhere else.

But what do some other members of the international community want for Syria? Unfortunately, there have been conflicting responses to the civic movements sweeping the Arab world. A glaring example of these contradictions lies in Bahrain and the way some states have responded to the crackdown on the uprising there.

The European response to the Syrian crisis has been particularly contradictory. Little, if anything, is said about the increasing presence of armed extremists in Syria. Even while preoccupied with the rising extremism in Afghanistan, thousands of miles away, European leaders seem unconcerned that they may soon have an Afghanistan on their doorstep.

To borrow the words of my respected friend Kofi Annan, who recently resigned from his post as special U.N. envoy to the Syrian conflict after seeing his peacemaking efforts continuously undermined, 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. Syrian society is a beautiful mosaic of ethnicities, faiths and cultures, and it will be smashed to pieces should President Bashar al-Assad abruptly fall. The idea that, in that event, there would be an orderly transition of power is an illusion.

Although Annan’s efforts to end the crisis have been terminated, his six-point plan for political change is alive and well. Why should seeds of discord continue to be planted when the situation can be resolved rationally, through wisdom and providence? Those backing violence in Syria fail to see that whatever they seek through their actions won’t materialize.

Abrupt political change without a roadmap for managed political transition will lead only to a precarious situation that would destabilize one of the world’s most sensitive regions. Iran is part of the solution, not the problem. As the world has witnessed during the past decade, we have acted as a stabilizing force in Iraq and Afghanistan, two other Muslim countries thrown into turmoil. The stability of our region is paramount for world peace and tranquillity.

Some world powers and certain states in the region need to stop using Syria as a battleground for settling scores or jostling for influence. The only way out of the stalemate is to offer Syrians a chance to find a way out themselves.

Taking Annan’s six-point plan into consideration, Iran looks forward to bringing like-minded countries together to implement three essential points: Ensure an immediate cease-fire to stop the bloodshed, dispatch humanitarian aid to the Syrian people and prepare the ground for dialogue to solve the crisis.

I hereby announce Iran’s readiness to host a meeting of countries committed to immediately implementing these steps in hopes of ending the violence. As part of our commitment to resolve the crisis, I also reiterate our willingness to facilitate talks between the Syrian government and the opposition and to host such a dialogue.

Moreover, in line with Annan’s six-point plan, I once again declare Iran’s support for political reform in Syria that will allow the Syrian people to decide their destiny. This includes ensuring that they have the right to participate in the upcoming free and fair presidential election under international supervision.

As the holy month of Ramadan nears its end, I pray that Syrians will get to break their fast in peace and stability sooner rather than later — for their own interests and those of the world.

Read more on this issue: Kofi Annan: Forging a peace plan for Syria

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