Contradicting Kerry, Iran says it didn’t discuss Syria crisis with him

Nuclear deal was the only issue on agenda when Zarif met US secretary, Tehran claims; accuses US of seeking to blame others for its ‘wrong policy’ on Syria

Then US secretary of state John Kerry, left, meets with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif at United Nations headquarters on September 26, 2015. (AP/Craig Ruttle)
Then US secretary of state John Kerry, left, meets with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif at United Nations headquarters on September 26, 2015. (AP/Craig Ruttle)

Openly contradicting John Kerry, Iran on Sunday insisted its foreign minister did not discuss the Syrian crisis or any other regional issues in talks with the US secretary on Saturday in New York.

“There were no negotiations on the regional issues in the meeting between the two countries’ foreign ministers,” Iranian Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Marziyeh Afkham said.

Kerry and his Iranian counterpart Mohammad Javad Zarif held talks only on the nuclear issue, and measures for implementing the July nuclear agreement between Tehran and the world powers, Afkhan added. “During the meeting, the two sides also discussed and exchanged views on methods to prevent the Iranian people’s increasing distrust of the trend of the implementation of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA),” Afkham said.

Kerry’s spokesman had said the secretary, in the talks, raised concerns about the instability in Syria and Yemen, and the fate of Americans detained by or missing in Iran.

The secretary himself, before the meeting, had said, “I view this week as a major opportunity for any number of countries to play an important role in trying to resolve some of the very difficult issues (of) the Middle East… We need to achieve peace and a way forward in Syria, in Yemen… in the region,” he added. “I think there are opportunities this week, through these discussions, to make some progress.”

Marziyeh Afkham (Screen capture: YouTube)
Marziyeh Afkham (Screen capture: YouTube)

Afkham last week accused the Obama administration of seeking to blame others for its wrong policy in Syria, the semi-state Fars news agency reported.

“The US secretary of state’s comments inviting Iran to play a constructive role in Syria is an attempt to project the blame of others and is against the realities of the crisis in Syria,” it quoted her telling reporters on Thursday.

“Any plan and solution to end the crisis in Syria which doesn’t prioritize the fight against the terrorists and Takfiri and extremist groups is doomed to failure, and setting any precondition for fighting against the terrorists and extremist groups means that the crisis will never end,” she said.

Ahead of their talks, Zarif had said the primary focus of his meeting with Kerry would be implementation of the nuclear deal. He said Iran was only willing to discuss regional issues, including the deadly stampede at the Hajj pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia, “in the proper international forum.”

In New York on Friday, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said that Iran-US ties had improved in recent years but that there was “still a long road to travel” until the two countries established normal relations.

Speaking to a group of US editors, the Iranian president said the opposition expressed by some US lawmakers on the Iranian nuclear deal reflected “extremely bitter extremist judgments,” and was not well-received in Iran. “It was as if they were on another planet,” he said, according to Reuters. “They did not seem to know where Iran was.”

“The nuclear issue is a big test within the framework of issues between the United States and Iran,” Rouhani told the group. “If we can see that we can reach success…and both sides have contributed to that success in good faith, then perhaps we can build on that.”

Rouhani said implementation of the nuclear deal would improve the atmosphere to allow progress to be made.

He also said that Iran can play a constructive role in addressing the threat of the Islamic State group, which has seized control of large swaths of Syria and Iraq, and that world powers were wrong to try to keep Iran out of the discussions on how to deal with the threat.

Iran is “a powerful and effective country in the region, this is undeniable,” Rouhani said. Without Iranian intervention on the side of the Baghdad government at a crucial juncture last year, he said, the Islamic State might already have taken over all of Iraq.

“Had it not been for Iran’s help, Baghdad would have fallen and certainly Daesh [Islamic State] would have been ruling in Baghdad,” he said.

Rouhani defended the Syrian regime of Bashar Assad from charges of brutality in dealing with its opponents. He denied any knowledge of the use of “barrel bombs” against civilians in Syria’s civil war, but suggested that Damascus was entitled to use whatever it has at its disposal to counter terrorists. Citing the beheadings of women and children and other atrocities by Islamic State extremists, he said, “With such a savage, inhuman, subhuman group, how should we fight them?”

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