“Serious and inclusive” talks between the Syrian government and opposition groups have been called on by Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi called on Thursday, opening a meeting of friendly nations called by Tehran as it seeks to exert its influence over the conflict.
“The Islamic Republic of Iran firmly believes that the Syrian crisis can only be resolved through serious and inclusive talks between the government and opposition groups that enjoy popular support in Syria,” Salehi said at the start of a conference in Tehran, which was broadcast on Iranian state television.
At the meeting, more than 25 nations were present, which included delegations from Russia, China, Iraq, Pakistan, Jordan, India, among others. According to a Reuters report, none of the countries back the Syrian opposition or have called for President Bashar al-Assad to leave power.
In the speech broadcast live, Salehi said that Iran “rejects any foreign and military intervention in Syrian and backs and supports U.N. efforts to resolve the crisis.”
The Syrian government has said it is ready for dialogue but the opposition says Assad must step down as a precursor to any negotiations. Continued hostilities in Aleppo, where the Syrian military is bombarding rebel fighters, make talks unlikely in the near future.
Also present at the Tehran meeting was the United Nations resident coordinator to Tehran, Consuelo Vidal-Bruce, who read out a statement from U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.
“Both the government and the opposition continued to rely on weapons,” the translated statement read, and such actions would have “tragic consequences for the Syrian people”.
All parties had a common responsibility to “end the violence and the killing of civilians,” the Iranian student news agency reported.
In an opinion piece published by the Washington Post on Wednesday, Salehi warned there would be catastrophic consequences if Assad fell from power.
“Syrian society is a beautiful mosaic of ethnicities, faiths and cultures, and it will be smashed to pieces should President Bashar al-Assad abruptly fall,” it read.
While Salehi said Iran sought a solution that was in “everyone’s interest”, Western diplomats have dismissed the conference as an attempt to divert attention away from bloody events on the ground and to preserve the rule of Assad.
“The Islamic Republic’s support for Assad’s regime is hardly compatible with a genuine attempt at conciliation between the parties,” said one Western diplomat based in Tehran.
It showed Iran was “running out of ideas”, he added. Another Western diplomat said Tehran was trying to broaden the support base of the Syrian leader.
Along with Russia and China, Iran has strongly supported Assad, whose forces have launched crushing operations against anti-government protesters and armed opposition groups since the crisis erupted 17 months ago.
Meanwhile, an airliner carrying a French military medical team and supplies destined to help refugees on the Jordanian-Syrian border left France Thursday for Amman.
Carrying 90 medical and logistics staff and 20 tons of medical aid, the A310 plane took off from the Istres air force base on France’s Mediterranean coast.
A second plane carrying more medical supplies was to leave Saturday morning.
President Francois Hollande’s office announced the deployment on Monday, saying the decision was made with the full consent of Jordanian authorities.
Several hundred thousand Syrian refugees have sought shelter in neighboring countries, including 120,000 who are registered with the United Nations refugee agency. Many more Syrians are internally displaced.