Iran FM calls for all foreign forces to leave Syria

Iran FM calls for all foreign forces to leave Syria

Zarif refuses to denounce Hezbollah's involvement in civil war, says Shiites cannot accept desecration of holy sites

Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, Jan. 24, 2014 (photo credit: AP/Michel Euler)
Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, Jan. 24, 2014 (photo credit: AP/Michel Euler)

All foreign combatants in the Syrian civil war must withdraw from fighting immediately, as the conflict can only be resolved by the Syrian people themselves, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said Friday.

Speaking at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Zarif didn’t specifically mention Iran’s proxy Hezbollah, whose fighters have fought alongside Syrian President Bashar Assad’s forces over the past year.

Zarif said Iran also wants to see an end to foreign support for opponents of Assad’s government and a recognition by all sides that there can be no military solution to the conflict. He said Tehran hoped for a negotiated settlement.

Tehran is a staunch ally of Assad and provides Damascus with material support in its fight against opposition forces, and Iranian military advisers assist the Syrian army. 

When pressed by the moderator to single out Hezbollah and call on the group to halt its operations in Syria, Zarif declined with a smile, and reiterated his stance that all foreign forces must leave the conflict zone.

But while commenting on the desecration of Shiite holy by Sunni forces in Syria, Zarif said it would be unreasonable to expect Shiites to stand by idly as such acts were performed. The foreign minister denied, however, that Hezbollah had been ordered by the Iranian regime to participate in the Syrian civil war and said the Shiite organization had come to its own decisions on the matter.

When asked whether he believed the Syrian conflict would be resolved within the coming year, Zarif said it was up to the forum participants and their representative countries to decide.

“We are at a crossroads, it can go either way, I believe we can all determine our future.”

Zarif’s call for “all foreign forces to withdraw from Syria” was endorsed by fellow panelists, Jordanian Foreign Minister Nasser Sami Judeh and Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, before the crowd of political and financial elites.

Judeh noted that Saudi Arabia and others at the opening of the Syria peace conference in Montreux on Wednesday also backed the withdrawal of foreign forces.

“There is a consensus that non-Syrian fighters should withdraw from Syria,” said another panelist, Ghassan Salame, dean of the Paris School of International Affairs.

Salame said the UN Security Council should adopt a resolution demanding such a withdrawal since there seems to be a consensus among those at Montreux and in Davos, a proposal which was greeted with loud applause.

Concerning the interim nuclear deal between Iran and the P5+1 world powers that took effect this week, Zarif said he believed the agreement would further understanding between the Islamic Republic and its neighbors, as well as Western powers.

“We should not be concerned with the nuclear issue,” Zarif said. “The interim agreement should be viewed as a success,” he said, adding that he could not understand why other regional players would be worried over the Iran’s diplomatic interaction with the West.

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