Annan says Iran must be player in Syria crisis talks
BEIRUT, (Reuters) - U.N. peace envoy Kofi Annan waded into big power politics yesterday, insisting regional heavyweight Iran should be involved in efforts to find a peaceful solution to the Syria crisis despite the West’s firm rejection of a role for Tehran.
The United States and its NATO and Gulf Arab allies are opposed to involving the Islamic Republic, which strongly backs Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and is regarded as their main adversary in the Middle East.
Such diplomatic rifts have prevented effective international action to end the 16-month-old conflict in Syria.
“Iran has a role to play. And my presence here explains that I believe in that,” Annan said after talks in Tehran with Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi.
“I have received encouragement and cooperation with the minister and the (Iranian) government,” Annan said.
The former U.N. secretary general said Iran had made clear that if the crisis got “out of hand and spread to the region, it could lead to consequences that none of us can imagine”.
Washington repeated its support for Annan’s broader peace plan for Syria but gave no sign its was easing its opposition to Iran playing a role.
“I don’t think anybody with a straight face could argue that Iran has had a positive impact on developments in Syria,” White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters.
Russia, which along with China opposes any external move to tip the balance against Assad, has said Iran should be involved. Moscow on Tuesday suggested hosting regular meetings of an “action group” which would include the Syrian opposition.
Annan said after talks in Damascus on Monday that Assad had suggested easing the conflict on a step-by-step basis, starting with districts that have suffered the worst violence.
After his talks in Tehran, Annan met Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki in Baghdad. Assad and Maliki both have close relations with Iran, a Shi’ite Muslim power vying with Sunni Gulf Arab states for predominance in the wider region.