TEHRAN — U.N. special envoy Kofi Annan said Tuesday that “Iran can play a positive role” in ending a bloody 17-month standoff between Syrian rebels and the government of President Bashar al-Assad and that Iran should be “part of the solution in the Syrian crisis.”
Emphasizing that he was speaking only for himself, Annan, a former U.N. secretary general, held a news conference with Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi after a meeting in which they discussed how Iran, a stalwart ally of Assad’s, might help end the violence.
“I have received encouragement and cooperation from the minister and the government and am looking forward to continue working together to resolve this conflict,” Annan said.
Annan, a joint envoy of the United Nations and the Arab League on the Syria crisis, has led international efforts to implement a peace plan in Syria — efforts that until now have pointedly not included Iran. First, Annan shepherded an approach that would have included a cease-fire starting in April. When that failed, he turned to a proposal for a transitional government forged at an international conference in Geneva that did not include representatives from Iran.
On Monday, Annan said that he had met at length with Assad and that he had established “an approach” for stopping the violence that he intends to share with rebel leaders.
The Syrian opposition, however, has said that any plan to end the conflict must start with Assad’s departure, a precondition that Assad shows no sign of being willing to accept.
After meeting with Salehi, Annan reiterated the need for a speedy solution to the conflict. Salehi, he said, “has made it clear that if we do not make a real effort to resolve this issue peacefully, and it were to get out of hand and spread throughout the region, it could lead to consequences that none of us could imagine.”
Salehi reasserted Iran’s desire to be involved in ending the crisis. “Mr. Annan has said explicitly over and over that Iran is part of the solution and not part of the problem,” he said. “We have expressed our views very clearly that people of Syria, just like other people, have the right to freedom, free election . . . and the government of Syria should meet the legitimate demands of their people.”
At the same time, Saeed Jalili, the secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, cautioned against efforts by “foreigners” to intervene in the conflict, echoing repeated statements by Assad that the rebels have been organized and influenced by outside terrorist groups and enemies of the state.
“The solution to Syria’s crisis is a Syrian solution that should be implemented by its people and government without the interference of foreigners,” said Jalili, who met with Annan during his visit.
Iran has strengthened Assad’s military in recent years, providing advisers, advanced communications technology and weapons, according to the Associated Press. All of this makes Iran unlikely to support change in Syria.
“Inviting Iran to discuss how to best transition to a post-Assad Syria is akin to inviting vegetarians to a barbecue,” Karim Sadjadpour, an Iran analyst with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, told the AP.
Annan later visited Iraq and met with Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to discuss ways to end the bloodshed in Syria.