Velayati Comments on Syria, Missile Program

Velayati Comments on Syria, Missile ProgramVelayati Comments on Syria, Missile Program

A top adviser to the Leader of Islamic Revolution reiterated that Iran is standing by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, despite a call by the US and its western and regional allies that he should leave power as part of an ongoing political process aimed at ending the Syria crisis.

"Bashar al-Assad is the legitimate president of Syria and should stay in power until the end of his term," Ali Akbar Velayati told state TV on Saturday.

"The condition that Assad must go is our redline, so we will continue to defend him."

A civil war has been raging in the Arab country for five years between Assad's forces, backed by Iran and Russia, and armed insurgents supported by the United States, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and other allies.

In a November meeting in Vienna, the countries involved agreed on a roadmap outlining a peace process that envisaged a ceasefire, talks between the Syrian government and opposition, and a roughly two-year timeline to establish a unity government and hold elections.

"Upon the request of Syria's legitimate president and his government, which is recognized by the United Nations, Iran is helping him in the fight against terrorists," Velayati said.

"Takfiris and Daesh [an Arab acronym for the self-styled Islamic State terrorist group] have and will suffer defeats in Syria and Iraq."

A takfiri accuses followers of other religions and some Islamic sects of being unbelievers.

Russian airstrikes, launched in September, reversed the tide in the war and enabled Assad's army to recover lost ground from IS.

A ceasefire has been in force since February and peace talks are set to resume this week.

  Essential Steps

The advisor stressed that Iran's missile program is non-negotiable.

"The US cannot determine our defense policy," he said.

He was commenting on recent remarks by US Secretary of State John Kerry who suggested that the US is open to a "new arrangement" with Iran for peacefully resolving disputes such as Tehran's recent ballistic missile tests.

Iran's launch of ballistic missiles last month has drawn condemnation by some western powers, prompting a call by them for the imposition of punitive sanctions. They claim that the launches have violated a UN resolution that calls upon Iran to refrain from any activity related to ballistic missiles that can be tipped with nuclear weapons.

Iran denies that its missiles are nuclear capable, saying they have been developed for use as a conventional deterrent.

"For a country to enjoy a regional role, steps to develop its defense power and equipment are essential, so it can act to respond to its neighbors' request for help in safeguarding their independence," Velayati said.