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Iran for bigger Indian role in Syria

Atul Aneja
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New Delhi not comfortable with Friends of Syria group

Shared interests:External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid and his Iranian counterpart Ali Akbar Salehi in Tehran on Saturday.— PHOTO: PTI
Shared interests:External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid and his Iranian counterpart Ali Akbar Salehi in Tehran on Saturday.— PHOTO: PTI

India may soon find a place on the high table on Syria — courtesy Iran, which is considering a diplomatic initiative to resolve the festering crisis by involving major countries of the nonaligned movement.

Iran sounded India on its budding proposal during External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid’s visit to Tehran which concluded on Sunday. Apart from the situation in Afghanistan, Syria emerged as a major talking point between Mr. Khurshid and his counterpart, Ali Akbar Salehi.

Ali Akbar Velayati — a veteran diplomat, whose elevated position in the Iranian establishment is affirmed by his proximity to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei — is said to have brought the Syrian situation into sharper focus during his talks with the visiting Minister. Iran also shared its anxieties and concerns over Syria during Mr. Khurshid’s call on Ali Larijani, Speaker of the Iranian Majlis.

“As chairman of NAM, Iran is looking at bringing together heavyweights within the global South to deliberate from a fresh perspective on the Syrian condition,” a top diplomat told The Hindu . Around 10 prominent members — including host Iran, India and Indonesia — are likely to form the new Syria-centric group.

Geneva communiqué

As a founding member, India is comfortable with the initiative that is rooted within the NAM framework. New Delhi was clearly out of its comfort zone during its low-key interaction as observer with the “Friends of Syria” — a coalition led by the U.S. and its allies in Europe and the Gulf that has a pronounced focus on “regime change” in Syria.

Opposed to any plan premised on Mr. Assad’s exit, Indian officials say the fate of their President should be decided by the Syrians themselves on the basis of an internal dialogue. India and Iran’s shared concerns on ending Syria’s humanitarian strife, as well determining a roadmap for the political transition, were anchored in their statement that followed Saturday’s talks in Tehran.

Both countries supported the Geneva Communiqué which includes the “six-Point Plan of Kofi Annan” — a reference to the former envoy on Syria of the Arab League and the U.N. who had earlier decided to quit, frustrated by the reluctance of the big powers to resolve the crisis based on his recommendations.

Signed in June last year, the Geneva communiqué — Mr. Annan’s last hurrah — is a rare document that bridged  divisions between the  jointly-adopted positions of Russia and China — two countries that have firmly opposed “regime change” — and the U.S.-led bloc.

The plan supports a political transition, without insisting on President Assad’s exit. As its leading advocate, the Russians have later accused the U.S. and its allies of backtracking on their commitments in Geneva, by avoiding a clear enforcement of a transition plan in Syria through a suitable follow-up resolution in the United Nations Security Council (UNSC).

Familiar terrain

Analysts point out that formation of a non-aligned forum would present India a new opportunity to voice its growing concerns over Syria from a familiar international platform raised by the leading and, economically most dynamic, members of the rapidly evolving developing world. In recent months, New Delhi has decided to raise the volume of its difficulties with a western-led approach. Harmonising its position with members of the Brazil-Russia-India-China-South Africa (BRICS) forum, India is a party to a joint statement that followed the meeting in March of the group in Durban.

The statement supported a “Syrian led political process” based on a “broad national dialogue that meets the legitimate aspirations of all sections of Syrian society”.

The BRICS also credited the Geneva plan and appropriate UNSC resolutions for affirming the “respect for Syrian independence, territorial integrity and sovereignty”.




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