Iran has been quick off the blocks in support of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s plan to resolve the internal conflict, which may soon be yielding ground to diplomacy as the limits to finding a military solution to the crisis get exposed.
“The Islamic republic... supports President Bashar al-Assad’s initiative for a comprehensive solution to the country’s crisis,” said Iran’s Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi in a statement posted on his Ministry’s website.
“Assad’s plan includes solutions which reject violence and terrorism and any foreign interference in the country, and outlines a comprehensive political process”, he observed.
On Sunday, Mr. Assad stressed that the crisis in his country could be resolved not through military but political means.
“The political solution entails regional and international powers halting their support for armed groups, which will be followed by a halt in our security forces’ crackdown against them,” Mr. Assad told a packed opera house audience in the heart of Damascus.
After spelling out his terms for a ceasefire, the Syrian President said that the next step would be to convene a national conference, where all parties who work in Syria’s interest would participate. These deliberations would result in a new constitutional draft, which will be put to vote in a national referendum.
Finally, the crisis would end with a process of national reconciliation that would include the granting of amnesty to those who have been imprisoned during the conflict.
However, the President said he would not negotiate with two main components of the opposition: The pro-western rebels, whom he described as “western puppets”; and “terrorists” known for their links with al-Qaeda. “We never rejected a political solution … but with whom should we talk? With those who have extremist ideology who only understand the language of terrorism?” he said. “Or should we negotiate with puppets whom the West brought.” He added: “We dialogue with the master not with the slave.”
During the speech, the President called for popular mobilisation to counter the existential threat that confronts Syria. “Everyone must defend it… the attack on the entire nation… every citizen who is aware… and refusing to join solutions is taking the nation backwards,” he said.
In its response to the presidential address, the Chinese Foreign Ministry urged both sides in the conflict to “follow the objectives and principles set forth in the Action Group Geneva Communiqué and establish an inclusive transitional governing body to realise a political transition in the country”. Conceived on June 30 last year, the Geneva plan calls for the formation of a transitional government in Syria, drawn from the government and the opposition, without seeking Mr. Assad’s exit.
While there has so far not been an official Russian response to the presidential address, the Voice of Russia radio quoted Boris Dolgov from the Institute of Eastern Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences as saying that the President’s speech was a significant event not only for Russia but the entire region. He concurred with Mr. Assad’s perception that the external support to the opposition was the main cause of instability in the region.
Analysts point out that the President’s speech comes at a point of inflection in the Syrian crisis. In the United States, a major change of personnel is taking place in the State Department, CIA and the Pentagon, which might be a precursor to a policy shift on Syria.
Later in January, Lakhdar Brahimi is hosting a trilateral meeting with senior Russian and U.S. officials, amid anticipation that a new U.S.-Russia plan on resolving the Syrian crisis is in the works.
Nevertheless, Victoria Nuland, the spokeswoman for the State Department, did not signal on Sunday any change in Washington’s stance towards Syria. She described Mr. Assad’s speech as “yet another attempt by the regime to cling to power, and [which] does nothing to advance the Syrian people’s goal of a political transition”.