A dozen countries are to attend a hastily called meeting in Tehran on Thursday to discuss ways to end the violence in Syria, Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi said, without saying who was coming.
“The consultative meeting on Syria will be held tomorrow in Tehran with 12 to 13 countries from Asia, Africa and Latin America” represented, Salehi said on Wednesday, the official news agency IRNA reported.
“Our main argument is an end to the violence and the holding of national dialogue in Syria. Iran’s efforts are aimed at ending the violence in Syria as soon as possible,” he said.
President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said the Tehran conference and an Organization of Islamic Cooperation meeting he is to attend in Saudi Arabia next week “are a good opportunity to replace military clashes by political solutions to resolve the problems in Syria,” the ISNA news agency reported.
Iran is the key ally to the Syrian regime of President Bashar al-Assad.
A top aide to Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Saeed Jalili, who met Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in Damascus on Tuesday said Iran will never allow Assad’s regime to fall, calling it part of an anti-Israeli axis in the Middle East led by Tehran.
“Iran will never allow the resistance axis -- of which Syria is an essential pillar -- to break,” Jalili said.
“What is happening in Syria is not an internal issue but a conflict between the axis of resistance on the one hand, and the regional and global enemies of this axis on the other,” he added.
Iran accuses Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar of arming the opposition in Syria, in collusion with the United States and Israel, to overthrow Assad.
U.S. and Syrian opposition reports in turn accuse Iran of military supporting Damascus.
U.S. pressure excluded Iran from a previous diplomatic initiative led by former U.N.-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan to engage countries with influence in Syria in dialogue.
On Monday, Iran’s foreign ministry announced it was calling the Tehran conference, and said nations having “a principled and realistic position on Syria” would take part.
Deputy Foreign Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian said the meeting would be at the level of foreign ministers, according to IRNA, but the agency reported on Wednesday that some countries may be represented by ambassadors instead.
On Tuesday, an official in Lebanon told AFP the Lebanese foreign ministry had informed Iran it would not attend “because it has never participated in any international meetings on Syria, in line with its policy of restraint.”
Likewise, a U.N. spokesman said former envoy Annan would not be sending a representative.
Annan announced last week that he was quitting as Syria envoy because of the lack of international support for his peace plan.
Iraq’s foreign ministry said on Wednesday it was not yet sure whether Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari would attend.
And Kuwaiti lawmakers warned their government not to take part in the meeting “because Iran hands are stained with the blood of the Syrian people,” according to a statement by opposition Islamist MP Waleed al-Tabatabai.
“In addition, this meeting aims to rescue the regime of (Syrian President) Bashar al-Assad,” the lawmaker said.
Meanwhile, Turkey warned Iran “in a frank and friendly manner” against blaming Ankara for violence in Syria, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said on Wednesday, a day after holding talks with his Iranian counterpart.
Salehi flew to neighboring Turkey on Tuesday seeking to mend a relationship sorely strained by the Syrian uprising and to secure Turkish help for 48 Iranians kidnapped in Syria on Saturday.
Turkey was incensed by comments this week by Iran’s top general Hassan Firouzabadi, in which he blamed Turkey for the bloodshed in Syria and accused Ankara, alongside Saudi Arabia and Qatar, of helping the “war-raging goals of America.”
“Such statements have the potential to harm Iran as well,” Davutoglu told reporters at Ankara airport before departing on a visit to Myanmar.
Although the comments were not made by Iran’s leaders, they were made by individuals holding official posts, he said.
“We would expect these officials, both in Turkey and Iran, to think a few times before making any comments. Our position on the issue was explained to Mr. Salehi in a frank and friendly manner,” Davutoglu added.
Blaming Turkey or others would be of no benefit for any country, he said.
The once close ties between the Middle East’s two non-Arab powers have been ravaged by events in Syria. Turkey has demanded President Bashar al-Assad quit, but Iran supports his suppression of an uprising Tehran says is backed by regional and Western enemies.
Davutoglu told Salehi Turkey would try to help free the 48 Iranians seized by rebels on the road from Damascus airport on Saturday.