Turkey’s Erdogan meets Iran’s Ahmadinejad on Syria

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Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan held a surprise meeting with Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on the sidelines of a regional economic conference in Baku, Azerbaijan Tuesday, to discuss Syria.

The Turkish leader proposed that Turkey, Egypt and Iran might hold three-way talks on resolving the Syria conflict, that has sharply strained relations between Ankara and Tehran. While Iran has backed its ally the Assad regime, Turkey has supported the opposition, while hosting an influx of over 100,000 Syrian refugees and fighting escalating border clashes this month after Syrian mortar killed five Turkish civilians.

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Iran FM Salehi: Iran nuclear bomb would decrease Iran’s security

New York_ Iran’s foreign minister said Monday that Iran acquiring a nuclear weapon would threaten Iran’s security and be destabilizing for the region.

Ali Akbar Salehi, the MIT-educated PhD engineer who previously served as Iran’s longtime envoy to the UN atomic watchdog agency, said that Iran acquiring one or two nuclear bombs would dramatically increase the threats Iran faces, and not be a deterrent to nuclear powers with far larger nuclear stockpiles.

“Had Iran chosen to [go] nuclear in the sense of weaponization, it would not be a deterrent for Iran,” Salehi, speaking in English, told foreign policy experts at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York Monday. “It would attract more threats from the other side.”

“Because suppose we wanted to go nuclear and manufacture one or two bombs,” Salehi continued. “Who on the other side of Iran …can we ever be in equal footing with in this regard? Any country that challenges us with nuclear weapons …who would we use against?”

(In an interview with Al-Monitor in August, Salehi said he envisioned a ‘win-win’ way out of the international dispute over Iran’s nuclear program.)

Salehi, with his many years in the United States and Vienna, cut a stylistically more erudite, polished figure than Iran’s outgoing President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who returned home to criticism over the dramatic plunge in the value of the Iranian currency the rial by almost 40% this week. But on core positions his message was not fundamentally different from that offered by the controversy-courting Ahmadinejad, who has spoken for the past few years about Iran’s willingness to strike a reasonable compromise on its nuclear program, but alienated many in the West by his questioning of the Holocaust and antagonistic comments about Israel, which Ahmadinejad refers to as “the Zionist” entity.

By contrast, Salehi referred to “Israel” by name in his remarks. But he referred to it to criticize Israel for its recent threats of military action against Iran’s nuclear program, and the double standards by which he says it does so while possessing some 200 nuclear weapons and not being a party to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), to which Iran is a signatory.

On Syria, Salehi said that Iran has been meeting with the Syrian opposition for over a year, and supports UN and regional initiatives to try to broker mediation talks between the Syrian government and the opposition.

“We have been in contact with the Syrian opposition for over a year,” Salehi said. “We have declared and announced that we are ready to host the opposition and government in Iran, to sit down with each other and find a solution.”

(Salehi did not specify which Syrian opposition groups Iran has met with. But Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Moallem, in an interview with Al-Monitor Saturday, said that Iran had been holding talks with members of the Syrian National Council and the Muslim Brotherhood.)

Salehi said that he has held meetings in New York in recent days with new United Nations/Arab League Syria envoy Lahhdar Brahimi and the Arab League chief, as well as with the UN’s longtime Lebanon envoy Terje Rød-Larsen.

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US Syria hand Fred Hof to resign

Veteran US diplomat Fred Hof, the US Special Advisor on Transition in Syria, is resigning his post, Al Arabiya Washington bureau chief Hisham Melham reports.

Hof’s last day at State is Friday, a former senior American official told Al-Monitor Tuesday.

Hof has “worked tirelessly to unify Syrian opposition,” Melhem wrote on Twitter Tuesday, calling the diplomat a “real Mensch,” and his departure a tremendous loss to the Syrian people.

Hof joined the Obama administration in 2009 as an advisor on Syria and Lebanon aiding the small team of US Middle East peace envoy George Mitchell, who resigned last year.

More recently Hof had been traveling in the region almost constantly, working in close coordination with US Syria envoy Robert Ford on a post-Assad Syria ‘day after’ transition plan.

Hof initially told Mitchell he would commit to two years in the job, but extended his work as the Syria conflict deepened, a source familiar with his decision to leave told Al-Monitor, adding Hof’s spouse was eager for him to return to civilian life.

News of the resignation comes as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton met in New York Tuesday with Lakhdar Brahimi, the new joint UN/Arab League Syria envoy. Brahimi reportedly gave Clinton a bleak assessment of the conflict.

“I do not have a full plan for the moment, but I have a few ideas,” Brahimi said Tuesday, Reuters reported.

“The situation in Syria is extremely bad and getting worse,” the Algerian diplomat continued. “There is a stalemate … but I think we will find an opening in the not too distant future.”

Syria’s Moallem to lead delegation to UN in New York

Syria's Foreign Minister Walid Moallem.Syria’s Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem will lead the country’s delegation traveling to New York next week for events surrounding the opening session of the United Nations General Assembly.

Moallem is expected to arrive in New York around September 24, diplomatic sources told Al-Monitor.

His visit comes as the international community remains divided over how to contain the civil war that has engulfed the country over the past 18 months, killing over 20,000 people and spurring a refugee exodus to Turkey, Iraq, Jordan, and Lebanon. Western countries remain reluctant to intervene in the conflict, and the prospect looms of a protracted civil war, that could potentially destabilize Syria’s neighbors.

On Wednesday, Iranian Foreign Mnister Ali Akbar Salehi arrived in Damascus for talks with Moallem and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad about how to resolve the conflict.

Salehi’s Damascus trip followed consultations in Cairo the past two days on the Syrian crisis, involving Turkey, Egypt, Iran and the new UN/Arab League Syria envoy Lakhdar Brahimi.

Salehi will also travel to New York next week as part of the Iranian delegation attending the UNGA activities.