Iran to join Syria talks unconditionally
Iran has vowed all-out efforts to help restore peace to violence-torn Syria, saying the Islamic Republic will attend the upcoming crisis resolution talks between Damascus and the opposition in Astana, Kazakhstan, “without any preconditions.”
Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Qassemi made the remarks on Monday, addressing reporters at his biweekly press conference.
Late last month, the Syrian government and foreign-backed militant groups reached a nationwide ceasefire deal, brokered by Russia and Turkey. The two sides also agreed to attend intra-Syrian talks in Astana.
The deal followed an earlier truce agreement, mediated by Moscow and Ankara, in Aleppo, which paved the way for the evacuation of remaining civilians and armed men and put back the northwestern city under Damascus control after years of fighting.
The diplomatic achievements came after trilateral Syria meetings among Iran, Russia and Turkey in Moscow, in which the three sides stressed the need for an all-Syria truce and expressed “readiness to facilitate and become the guarantors” of the agreement, which was still under negotiations at the time.
Qassemi further said it is not yet clear when the Astana talks will take place, adding that Iran has “no preconditions” for attending the negotiations aimed at resolving more than five years of deadly violence in Syria.
Currently, the potential participation of other countries in the planned talks is not under discussion, the Iranian official added.
He emphasized that the Astana talks will be purely intra-Syrian, and that the Islamic Republic will not seek to impose its own will on any side during the planned negotiations.
Syria partition claims ‘hot air’
The Iranian official further rejected as “worthless” and “false” a recent Reuters report claiming that Tehran, Moscow and Ankara eye “dicing Syria into zones of influence.”
The report, published on December 28, 2016, said Syria would be divided into informal zones of regional power influence under an outline deal between Russia, Turkey and Iran, citing familiar sources.
“Iran’s position versus all regional countries is clear. We always have and always will defend Syria’s territorial integrity and national sovereignty,” he said, adding, “We will now allow Syria to turn into a place, where other countries, the least of which Iran, can exert their influence.”
He also pointed to a recent visit by Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Muallem to Tehran, saying Iran will keep up “constant consultations” with Damascus and other partners on the situation in Syria.
‘No Saudi invitation’
Last Friday, Saudi papers reported that the kingdom had invited Iran to discuss the resumption of Hajj pilgrimage for Iranians, a process that has been halted over a litany of Hajj-time disasters and moves by Riyadh impeding the performance of the Islamic ritual by Iranians.
The spokesman, however, denied Tehran had received any such invitation and said the Islamic Republic currently did not have any plans to send Iranians on the pilgrimage.
Energy dispute with Turkmenistan ‘not political’
Last week, it was reported that Iran and Turkmenistan had resolved a gas dispute brought about by Ashgabat’s claim that Tehran was $1.8 billion in arrears for gas deliveries from the Central Asian nation.
The resolution transpired on the back of an agreement over the differences between the two sides.
However, it was reported later that Turkmenistan had broken off gas flows to Iran as it had threatened prior to the conclusion of the deal.
Qassemi reminded that the bilateral cooperation in the energy sector goes back 20 years, half way through which Turkmenistan increased its prices, adding Iran agreed to the hike at the time under certain circumstances.
The official, however, said the dispute is not of a political nature, and only related to differences between the respective national gas companies, expressing hope that it will be resolved through mutual prudence.