Iran wants Iraq, Venezuela in ‘contact group’ on Syria

By The Daily Star

TEHRAN: Iran on Tuesday hailed Egypt’s aims in putting together a new “contact group” on the Syrian crisis, but said it wanted to expand the initiative to include its allies Iraq and Venezuela.

Deputy Foreign Minister Hossein Amir Abdolahian was quoted on his ministry’s website after attending the group’s first meeting in Cairo Monday that Egypt’s offer to host another session at a ministerial level “is a positive step.”

He welcomed Egypt’s stated goal of trying to stop Syria’s bloodshed through “consensus” in the group, based on policies to bring about a ceasefire, to maintain Syrian sovereignty and to reject any foreign intervention.

That was “a balanced solution,” Amir Abdolahian said.

The group, created by new Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi, comprises Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Iran.

The first three countries have all publicly called for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to resign as a first step to quelling an 18-month conflict that is raging in his country.

Iran, however, is Assad’s staunchest ally and has said it will do everything it can to keep him in power.

Egypt said on Monday it planned to bring the foreign ministers of the group’s members together in the coming days. A Turkish diplomat told AFP the meeting could happen next week.

In an apparent bid to bolster Iran’s pro-Assad position in the group, Amir Abdolahian called for “Iraq, as the current head of the Arab League, and Venezuela, as part of Non-Aligned Movement troika” to be allowed to join the group.

Iraq’s Shiite-led government and Chavez are allied with Iran, which currently holds the presidency of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM).

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez said later Tuesday he would evaluate the proposal.

“If we could help, God willing, in some way to bring peace to Syria, a nation that is being trampled by that violent imperialist policy, then I hope we can,” Chavez told a news conference.

“Greetings to President Bashar al-Assad and the kindred nation of Syria … I hope we can help in some way,” Chavez said.

During a NAM summit in Tehran last month, Iran called for the formation of a NAM troika comprising Iran, Egypt and Venezuela, to also seek ways to end the violence in Syria.

Amir Abdolahian also voiced support for the mission of new UN-Arab League envoy Lakhdar Brahimi, who was also in Cairo on Monday to speak to Arab League and Egyptian officials.

Brahimi was to go on to Damascus in the coming days to meet officials and community representatives. He told reporters he did not know yet whether he would be able to see Assad.
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