Iran’s FM: Until the Next Elections Assad is the President of Syria

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Iran’s Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi, in a Tehran press conference with Syria’s Foreign Minister, Walid Muallem, said Sunday that “Syria, like all other governments, has a legal president that has come [chosen] from the people. And the people of Syria, like all other countries in the world, choose their own president, and until the next elections, the president is Bashar Assad.” Al-Monitor’s Week in Review originally covered this story.

Salehi continued that in the next elections “everyone should be free to present their own candidate.” He stressed that “this is the official position of the Islamic Republic of Iran.” He also suggested that Assad like all others can participate in Syria’s next presidential elections in 2014.

Salehi defended Assad’s crackdown, which has left more than 70,000 dead, by saying that “we cannot ask Syria to lay down their arms while rebels do as they want.”

Salehi described Iran-Syria relations as “deep and bright” and said that Iran “will never forget the support of Syria during the imposed war,” in a reference to the eight-year Iran-Iraq that began when Iraq’s troops invaded Iran in 1980. Syria was the only Arab country to support Iran while Arab states in the Persian Gulf and North Africa financially and logistically supported Iraq. The Iran-Iraq war is also known as “The Sacred Defense.”

Interestingly, Salehi described Syria’s current situation also as an “imposed crisis.” However, he added that Iran has always emphasized that Syria’s government “must be answerable to the demands of the nation by realizing the demands of its citizens.”

Iran has invested heavily to support Assad in Syria’s civil war, both financially and military. On Feb. 14 Hassan Shateri, a senior Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps commander, was killed. Surprisingly, Salehi’s statements received scant coverage in Iranian media. As the Iranian economy continues to struggle, the Islamic Republic’s support of Assad has become increasingly unpopular at home.

In Other News

A new wave of raids of took place yesterday when security forces entered the offices of three publications. The Director, Mohammad Mehdi Imami Naseri, and Political Editor, Alireza Aghaeirad, from Maghreb newspaper were both arrested.

Upon news of the raids, several websites inside Iran had reported that three publications, the monthly Mehrnameh, the weekly Aseman and Tajrobeh, were shut down. All publications are known to be close to the Reformists. However, the editor of Mehranmeh, Mohammad Ghoochani, said that, “until this moment he had not received any letters from either the Press Supervisory Body or the Prosecutor’s” to shut down operations. However, it has been reported that the editors of the three publications had been “recommended” to shut down operations.

No reasons for the arrests of the Maghreb employees was given. However, editor of Maghreb wrote that the journalist were arrested “one day after publishing a letter by Mohammad Khatami.” Khatami is the former Reformist president of Iran who still has popular support among Reformists. Many believe these waves of arrests of journalists are meant to sideline Reformists before the upcoming presidential elections in Iran.

March 5 to March 12 in Iran is known as “Natural Resource Week.” The first day of this week has been designated “National Tree Planting Day.” Political leaders in Iran from the Supreme Leader to the president to the mayor, accompanied by the press, planted trees and stressed the importance of the environment on Tuesday.

After the tree planting ceremony Ayatollah Khamenei addressed in his speech the concerning level of deforestation in Iran. “The complaint I have with the political leaders,” he said, “at times, hundreds of trees that should not be cut down are cut down.” He also addressed the alarming trend in Iran of confiscation of “green” land on the outskirts of large cities that are converted to “concrete and high-rise towers.”

Due to the high rate of urbanization of Iran’s cities, land on the outskirts have been confiscated, sometimes through back-door dealings, and has made investors with connections to the government quite wealthy.

Jailed Former Deputy Minister Claims Khamenei’s Support for Assad has Provoked Shia-Sunni Conflict

Mostafa Tajzadeh, former deputy minister of the interior and one of Iran’s leading Reformist figures, currently imprisoned in Evin jail, has written a highly critical letter addressed to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, stating, “the result of your support for [Bashar] Assad is a war between Shia and Sunni.”

Tajzadeh stated that Khamenei’s “absolute defense” of the Syrian president was his biggest mistake of the last two years, adding that continuing such a policy will result in the expansion of the war to Lebanon and Iraq.

Tajzadeh also stressed that the confrontation in Syria is not merely one of the United States and West against Russia and China, but has been transformed into an “arena of struggles” between Salafi forces and non-Salafis, Shia Syrians, Iraqis and Lebanese.

Tajzadeh, who has written a number of critical letters to Iran’s leader since his arrest following Iran’s 2009 presidential election, added that following the Arab Spring it is clear that the people of the region have rejected the Iranian model for emulation. He further argued that the Arab world’s rejection of the Iranian model is due to the “absolute power of a person over 70 percent of the powers” of the state, claiming that “such a regime is similar to authoritarian regimes like that of the Pahlavis, Mubarak, Qaddafi and Assad.”

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