FM Clarifies Stance on Russian Campaign in Syria

FM Clarifies Stance on  Russian Campaign in SyriaFM Clarifies Stance on  Russian Campaign in Syria

Iran backs involvement in the Syria war by any forces, including Russia's, meant to destroy the so-called Islamic State militant group, the foreign minister says.

In an interview with the New Yorker published on Tuesday, Mohammad Javad Zarif was asked to clarify Tehran's position on Moscow's decision to launch airstrikes in Syria.

"We support anybody's involvement against Daesh, provided that it's serious," Zarif said, using the Arabic acronym for IS.

Russian warplanes began mounting air strikes against rebels in Syria last week. The West insists that any diplomatic solution to the more than four-year conflict need to involve Syrian President Bashar al-Assad stepping down, while Iran and Russia, Assad's allies, have stuck by him.

"The problem with the international coalition was that it was never serious, because it had political inhibitions against hitting Daesh, because they believe that hitting Daesh before they have a solution for Bashar al-Assad would help Bashar. So there is just a show going on, and that is why the ability of Daesh has not even been dented over the past year," Zarif said.

  No Ground Troops Deployed    

The top diplomat denied recent reports of Iran expanding its role in Syria beyond providing military advice by deploying hundreds of ground troops there.

"[Reports are] wrong. We haven't changed the nature of our presence in Syria. It continues to be military advisers, and no more. Actually, I checked, and I made sure that this was the case."

On the Russians' true motive behind their move and whether it is meant to ensure Assad's survival or facilitate negotiations to help end the crisis, Zarif said the aim is "what the United States should have wanted from this bombing campaign—and that is to destroy Daesh."

"I think [the move] gets us closer to negotiation from several different angles. These circumstances provide opportunities, as well as challenges. If we take the opportunities, we make something out of them. If we don't take the opportunities, then we are only left with challenges."

Justifying his view, he said, "Because there is no military solution in Syria. At the end of the day, everybody has to negotiate. And I think everybody understands this. There has to be a political solution to Syria, everybody committed to a political solution. The military battleground has its ups and downs. But military battles alone will not determine the future of Syria."

  Accidental Handshake

Zarif's recent handshake with Barack Obama, the first between a US president and a high-ranking Iranian official in over 35 years, drew sharp criticism back at home.

It happened on September 29 when the two ran into each other during the 70th Session of the United Nations General Assembly in New York.

Critics have accused Zarif of appeasing "the Great Satan," a term originated by the late Imam Khomeini, founder of the Islamic Republic, to refer to the United States as Iran's greatest foe.

Commenting on the issue, Zarif said his encounter with Obama and the greetings were abrupt, adding, "It's not customary for a head of state to plan shaking hands with a foreign minister. That's even an insult for a head of state to plan."

"Obama had spoken to the General Assembly two hours earlier, and we did not expect him to be back in the assembly hall. As I was getting out, President Obama, I don't know for what reason, was entering the General Assembly hall, and we simply ran into each other. On and off the record, it was an accident."