Despite the demands of the United States and its allies, Iran is insisting that Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad remain in power as part of any plan to end the Syrian civil war, “presenting a potentially fatal blow” to diplomatic efforts to end the conflict, Jay Solomon of The Wall Street Journal reported on Tuesday.
The U.S. and its closest Middle East allies, including Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Qatar, have demanded that Mr. Assad leave office as part of efforts to reconcile Syria’s warring factions. Secretary of State John Kerry has voiced hopes in recent weeks that Russia and Iran, Mr. Assad’s closest allies, will agree to a political transition in Damascus that excludes the Syrian dictator, provided their security and economic interests are respected.
A leading Iranian diplomat at the Vienna talks, however, on Sunday reaffirmed Tehran’s position that foreign powers cannot decide to bar Mr. Assad from future elections. A communiqué released after the meeting in the Austrian capital said the United Nations would seek to hold a vote in Syria in around 18 months. …
“The Islamic Republic of Iran did not allow this issue to be included in the final statement,” Iran’s deputy foreign minister, Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, told state media on Sunday. “We emphasized that only the people of Syria have the right to decide on this matter.”
“We stressed unequivocally that only Assad himself can decide on his participation or non-participation in the elections and [that] it is only the people of Syria who can say whether they will vote for him or not,” Amir-Abdollahian added.
Though some of the Arab nations participating in talks over Syria’s future would consider allowing Assad to remain in office for a limited amount of time, they have indicated that a time frame for his removal must be in place before they would be willing to ask their allied militias in the country to step down. “Iran’s insistence that Mr. Assad remain in power could undermine” any efforts to find a political solution to Syria’s civil war, Solomon wrote.
Although Iran insists that both Assad and the Syrian people should be the ones to determine the country’s future, Jonathan Spyer, director of the Rubin Center, wrote in May that “Iran has been willing to mobilize its regional proxies and its own assets” to forcibly keep Assad in power. Phillip Smyth, an adjunct fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, observed that Iranian financial support, which amounts to as much as $35 billion annually, has been an essential lifeline to the Syrian dictator.
Assad acknowledged the Islamic Republic’s support for his regime in August when he hailed the nuclear deal as a victory that strengthens Iran and Syria.
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