SYDNEY, Oct 2: Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi on Tuesday described Tehran as a “strong ally of the people of Syria” and warned outside powers not to interfere in the conflict.
But in an interview with Australia's SBS television, Salehi also said the Syrian government needed to recognise the opposition that has been waging an 18-month-old rebellion against President Bashar al-Assad's regime.
“When it comes to outside interference, and to the internal affairs of Syria, and when outside powers dictate upon the Syrian people that 'Look, your president should step down, and this should happen', this is not the right way to do things,” he told the broadcaster's Dateline program.
“What we are saying is that both sides have to recognise the other side. In other words, the government has to recognise the opposition, and the opposition has to recognise the government.”
The United States charges that Iran is arming the Syrian government in the brutal repression of its opponents but Salehi insisted his Islamic republic was working for peace.
“What we can do is to facilitate this, to facilitate sitting between the government and the opposition, so that they find a way out from this crisis,” he added in the interview in New York, where he was attending the UN General Assembly.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad last week said Tehran was working to set up a contact group on the conflict in Syria.
He refused to divulge which nations had been approached by Iran to join the group, saying he was hopeful the Iranian foreign ministry would make an announcement in the coming days.
Tehran is already included in another so-called “contact group,” involving Iran, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Turkey, and has called for observers to be sent to Syria to try to end the violence there.
At least 30,000 people, including more than 2,000 children, have died in the conflict since it erupted in March 2011, according to figures supplied by the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.