Iran to Annan: We’re With You, but Assad Stays
By: Elie Chalhoub
Published Tuesday, April 17, 2012
The Iranians warned the UN-Arab League envoy that Syria’s Arab and Western adversaries were out to foil him and that the consequences of failure would be devastating for Syria and the region.
Iran views Kofi Annan’s plan for Syria as a last chance to resolve the crisis there peacefully and is backing it to the hilt – as long as it provides President Bashar Assad with enough of a chance to enact the political reforms he has promised.
This, according to well-placed Iranian sources, was the message conveyed by Iranian officials to the joint UN-Arab League envoy when he visited Iran last week.
The sources explain that Iran was a “partner” in the formulation of Annan’s plan, and discussed it extensively with both him and the Syrians before Damascus formally signed up to it.
Accordingly, Tehran is committed to the plan’s success, “though we know for certain that there are regional and international parties, which we do not want to name although they are known to all, who want to abort it,” the sources say.
Iran sees the Annan plan as a success both for Iranian diplomacy and “Syrian steadfastness,” in that it seeks to “transfer the crisis from the ground to the negotiating table, and from military resolution to a political solution.” Tehran endorsed it willingly, “whereas others accepted it because they were forced to, and agreed to it reluctantly, because they found themselves bankrupt on the ground and had no more cards to play,” they remark.
But Iran’s support for the plan is not unconditional. When Annan was in Tehran, Iranian officials presented him with what the sources describe as a “road map” which they urged him to follow. They stressed to him that this was the “only way” he could produce a successful initiative. Moreover, they offered to assist him in any way he requested provided that he can abide by those terms. They also warned him, according to the sources, that Syria’s adversaries “want you to fail, and are trying hard to turn you into a second Dabi” – a reference to the former head of the short-lived Arab League observer mission to Syria, the Sudanese general Mustafa al-Dabi.
The Iranian “road map” consists of six main points that were impressed on Annan.
1. Assad is a “red line” as far as Iran is concerned, and “the Islamic Republic of Iran will not permit anyone to overthrow the legitimate president of the Syrian Arab Republic.”
2. Any political change in Syria must be initiated, addressed, and carried out within the framework of the reform process begun by Assad, and which it would only be possible to continue under his auspices.
3. Any proposed solution that does not take the above into account, or pursues a “reckless, irrational, and unprincipled” approach to the Syrian crisis, will have destructive implications and consequences through the region.
4. Nobody is entitled to disregard the legitimate rights of the Syrian people, but these can only be achieved by giving Assad a sufficient chance to implement the reforms he has promised.
5. There must be an immediate end to interference in the domestic affairs of Syria – including incitement to violence, funding, and fueling of armed conflict, and demanding Assad’s overthrow or resignation – by regional states that have made no secret of their meddling.
6. The only solution to the Syrian question lies in all parties adhering to democratic principles.
In Iran, Annan was received in turn by Deputy Foreign Minister Amir Abdallahian, Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi, National Security Council chief Saeed Jalili, and finally President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The sources say all of the former UN secretary-general’s interlocutors “made sure to confirm from him that he understood the six points well." Annan also asked for a meeting with Iran’s supreme leader, Ali Khamenei, but was told, in effect, that the talks he had held would be sufficient if he were serious about achieving a successful outcome.
Ahmadinejad’s meeting with Annan was held at the airport of the Gulf island of Qeshm, off the port of Bandar Abbas, where the president was visiting at the time. Observers believe this was deliberate, arguing that the Iranian president could have returned to the capital, or Annan’s stay could have been extended by one day. The venue, close to the Strait of Hormuz, may have been chosen to signal to Annan the high regional stakes involved in the Syrian crisis, and that he must not seek to achieve through diplomacy what Syria’s adversaries have failed to by means of their interventions on the ground.
Annan was reportedly pleased with the way his talks with Iranian officials went. He also shared their view of Syria’s geopolitical importance. He even went to the extent of declaring publicly, at the joint press conference he held with Salehi in Tehran, that demands for Assad’s overthrow or resignation are a breach of UN rules, and run counter to the purpose of his mission.
“Tehran considers this to be a final opportunity for all who may want to absolve themselves of responsibility for intensified blood-letting, strife and internal fighting in Syria,” the Iranian sources warn. Having reached this point after many hardships and sacrifices, it provides a chance for a new-look Syria to emerge that “meets the aspirations of the Syrian people and at the same time preserves the state and its resistance and steadfastness.”
To the Iranians’ mind, Syria’s adversaries “from Qatar to Saudi Arabia and France, to the US and Israel, and others, want to plunge this region into the unknown. They want to build their plans on this unknown. But their plans do not meet the aspirations of the Syrian people. On the contrary, they promise them destruction, steal the initiative from them, place them outside the game, and trade in them for other reasons.”
However, the same sources say, these players have now fallen “hostage” to the Annan plan, which has become the only one on the table. “If Annan’s mission succeeds, they will have failed. And if he fails, they will also have failed, because they will have been exposed. Annan’s failure can only result from him being debilitated or by the presence of parties that wish him ill,” the sources explain. While the failure of the Arab League initiative on Syria was a failure for its Saudi and Qatari authors, Annan’s plan is the international community’s plan. It remains to be seen, the sources add, whether the world would allow the foiling of his bid to resolve the Syrian crisis and be willing to put up with the consequences.
As for Turkey, the Iranians deny that their diplomatic efforts to lure it out of the anti-Assad camp have failed, as evidenced by renewed talk by Turkish officials of the possibility of establishing an exclusion zone along the border.
“We were not naive enough to hope that Turkey would revert to its honeymoon with Syrians,” the Iranian sources say. “We never expected Turkey to return to its senses fully. We are well aware that it is an inseparable part of NATO, and that it has made a strategic decision and is pursuing it in a manner we disagree with.”
What Iran sought was to prevent Turkey from embarking on an interventionist “adventure” in Syria, the sources explain. “We used advice, persuasion, inducements, threats, warnings, and every possible means to achieve this aim,” the sources say. “It worked, at least so far. We put a halt to its direct interventions in the game. We hope things will continue that way.”
This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.