Iran urges nonaligned nations role in Syria

 Iran

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, left, welcomes Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, right, at the Nonaligned Movement summit in Tehran, Iran, Friday, Aug. 31, 2012. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — Iran's supreme leader said Friday that emerging nations have a greater right than the West or United Nations to help resolve Syria's escalating civil war.

The comments appeared to reflect a hope by Iran to lead a diplomatic push over the crisis in its close ally Syria through the Nonaligned Movement, the grouping of 120 nations whose annual conference Tehran has hosted this week.

However, Iran has faced an uphill challenge in garnering support for Syrian President Bashar Assad. Some in the organization — particularly Sunni Muslim majority nations — are more sympathetic with the rebels, if not outright backing it.

Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei met Friday with Syria's prime minister, Wael Nader al-Halqi  and Damascus' delegation to the conference.

"The Nonaligned Movement definitely has more political right than the U.S., NATO or some European countries to intervene in the Syrian issue," Khamenei said. He did not elaborate on what kind of role the group should have.

Iran has hoped to use the nonaligned summit to counter Western efforts to isolate it over its nuclear program and also to head off foreign intervention in the Syrian crisis.

The U.N. and Arab League have both led ultimately failed efforts to negotiate an end to Syria's violence, in which thousands have been killed since early 2011. Turkey this week called for the U.N. to authorization creation of a safe zone in Syria for tens of thousands fleeing their homes. Britain and France have left open the possibility of more aggressive action, including a military-enforced no-fly zone to protect a safe area — though that still seems a remote possibility.

But the Nonaligned Movement, an organization formed in the Cold War as an alternative to both the Soviet and U.S. blocs, has little cohesiveness or international weight now to push a Syria initiative. And its members are divided over Syria.

On Thursday Egypt's Islamist president Mohammed Morsi — making the first visit to Iran by an Egyptian leader since the 1979 Islamic Revolution — said in Tehran that Assad's "oppressive" regime has lost its legitimacy and that the world must stand behind the Syrian rebels.

Syrian delegates to the conference walked out during Morsi's speech.

Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem on Friday complained of some nonaligned member states arming the rebels.

"Unfortunately, some regional countries, that are also members of the nonaligned movement, are providing weapons and military training as well as money to the armed groups to destroy Syria's infrastructure," he told Iranian state TV Friday.

Al-Moallem didn't name any country but last month he openly accused regional powerhouses Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey of trying to destroy his country by supporting the rebels.

Iran, Syria's key remaining ally in the Middle East, has provided Assad's government with military and political backing for years, and has kept up its strong support for the regime since the uprising began in March 2011.

However, Tehran has urged Damascus to listen to the Syrian people's "legitimate demands" but has strongly opposed shipment of weapons to the rebels.

"The main culprits in the Syrian issue are those who have paved the way for flooding shipment of arms into Syria as well as financial support for the irresponsible groups," state TV quoted Khamenei as saying Friday. "The Syrian government should remove excuses from the opponents, continue political reforms and expose behind-the-curtain facts for the Arab public opinion."

Iran has already proposed a 3-month ceasefire to pave the way for national reconciliation talks between the Syrian government and the opponents.

Anti-regime fighters have dismissed any role for Iran in such a plan. The rebels say it has little hope of succeeding. Also, the United States has rejected Iranian participation in international meetings on the Syrian crisis.
Associated Press
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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