Need to Back Syria Gov’t to Defeat IS

Need to Back Syria Gov’t to Defeat ISNeed to Back Syria Gov’t to Defeat IS

President Hassan Rouhani says backing Syria's "central government" is the only way to defeat the so-called Islamic State militant group operating in Syria and Iraq.

"In Syria, when our first objective is to drive out terrorists and combating terrorists to defeat them, we have no solution other than to strengthen the central authority and the central government of that country as a central seat of power," Rouhani told CNN's Christiane Amanpour on Sunday.

"So I think today everyone has accepted that President [Bashar] al-Assad must remain so that we can combat the terrorists."

"However, as soon as this movement reaches the various levels of success and starts driving out the terrorists on a step-by-step basis, then other plans must be put into action so as to hear the voices of the opposition as well."

Since the beginning of the Syrian conflict, Iran has put its full weight behind the Syrian government.

Russia, Iran and Assad are united in their opposition to IS. In recent weeks, Russia has significantly increased its support of Assad and built up its military presence in the war-ravaged Arab country.

***Indirect Engagement

The US, which says Assad has to go, appears to be switching tactics in an effort to end the Syria war, by involving Iran in negotiations. But Rouhani said there are no direct talks with the United States.

"Iran, with the United States, does not have any direct talks vis-a-vis Syria. But Iran simultaneously with the European Union, as well as other countries, does have talks regarding Syria," he said through an interpreter.

"And those parties to the talks with Iran about Syria are in direct conversations with the United States as well. So perhaps not direct, but there are talks."

The conflict may be on the verge of its most significant development yet, as Russia moves heavy military equipment and personnel into the country.

Rouhani said the United States, which has expressed outrage at Russia's move, should not be surprised.

"The few times that we have met with [Russian President Vladimir] Putin, he spoke in quite a bit of detail about this very issue," Rouhani said. "Russia has decided to undertake a much more serious level of operations in combat against the terrorists in Syria."

"And during the last meeting he did announce that some countries such as Iran, Iraq or Russia must form a semi, a quasi, coalition in order to assist in this fight against Daesh [IS] and other groups resembling it."

"And he told me that he had even spoken with [US President Barack] Obama about this topic, and he would like to renew his commitment to the fight and the defeat of Daesh."

"And he [Putin] told me that Obama welcomed that analysis and that plan. So even previously the United States of America was made aware."

***Far Away From Truth  

On the debate in the United States on the July 14 nuclear deal between Iran and major powers, Rouhani said the Republican candidates for US president who are attacking the accord could hardly find the country on a map or know that Tehran is the capital.

"Sometimes when I would have time, some of it was broadcast live and I would watch it -- some of it was quite laughable. It was very strange, the things that they spoke of."

"Some of them wouldn't even know where Tehran was in relation to Iran. Some of them didn't know where Iran was geographically, not distinguishing that one is the capital of the other."

"So what they spoke of was quite far away from the truth. So the people of Iran were looking at it as a form of entertainment, if you will, and found it laughable."

The US Congress this month failed to block the implementation of the deal that trades temporary curbs on Iran's nuclear program for the elimination of many sanctions against the country.

But Republican candidates for president have vowed to tear up the deal if elected.

"I will rip to shreds this catastrophic Iranian nuclear deal," Ted Cruz said in a recent CNN debate.

***Political Slogans  

Were the US to do that, Rouhani said, it would destroy the country's credibility abroad, and Iran would abide by its commitment to the deal.

"Can a government become a signatory to an international agreement and then the subsequent government tear it to shreds? This is something that only the likes of [former Iraqi dictator] Saddam Hussein would do," he said.

"Saddam Hussein, previous to attacking Iran in 1980, did sign an agreement with Iran and then tore it to shreds himself and then attacked Iran."

"So any government that replaces the current government must keep itself committed to the commitments given by the previous administration; otherwise, that government, that entire country, will lose trust internationally and no longer have the type of needed trust to operate in the international arena."

"So finally, I think most of these are political slogans at best."

***Talks on Prisoners Possible

Iran would be inclined to release American prisoners, such as Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian, if the US releases Iranians it is holding, Rouhani suggested.

"If the Americans take the appropriate steps and set them free, certainly the right environment will be open and the right circumstances will be created for us to do everything within our power and our purview to bring about the swiftest freedom for the Americans held in Iran as well."

The president said anytime something can be done to help someone in prison, "nothing would make me happier."

Because Iran has reached the landmark nuclear agreement with major powers, Rouhani said there is no reason for the US to hold prisoners who were arrested for violating the sanctions that are now being lifted.

"There are a number of Iranians in the United States who are imprisoned, who went to prison as a result of activities related to the nuclear industry in Iran."

"Once these sanctions have been lifted, why keep those folks in American prisons? So they must be freed."

Rouhani said that "consular issues" had been discussed on the sidelines of the nuclear negotiations, and that it would not be unusual for those talks to continue now.

"If the Americans take the appropriate actions vis-a-vis Iranian citizens who are being imprisoned here, then the right atmosphere and environment will be created for reciprocal action perhaps."

Secretary of State John Kerry, who is in New York for this week's meeting of the UN General Assembly, was asked later Sunday whether he would support such an exchange.

"I have yet to hear directly from the Iranians on anything direct," Kerry told reporters. "We've had some conversations but ... we'll wait and see where we are."