Rowhani: Syria engulfed in catastrophe

In Davos speech, Iran's president says the priority is to 'get terrorists out of Syria.'

Faisal J. Abbas
Faisal J. Abbas - Al Arabiya News, Davos
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Iranian President Hassan Rowhani told the World Economic Forum in Davos on Thursday that “Syria is engulfed in a catastrophe,” describing the situation of refugees as “sad.”

Iran has supported President Bashar al-Assad’s regime with weapons, money and fighters and has refused to accept his departure as a precondition to participating in the ongoing peace talks in Geneva.

Rowhani told international business and political leaders gathered in Davos that he is “also sad to see terrorists entering Syria.”

“We should get the terrorists out of Syria...and we should explain to countries that support terrorists that such actions are not in their interest because they will be next (target of terrorism),” he said.

While rival Syrian parties are deadlocked in Geneva over the fate of President Assad, Rowhani said free and fair elections would be the best way of ending Syria’s civil war that left more than 100,000 dead.

“The best solution is to organize free and fair elections inside Syria,” Rowhani said. No outside party or power should decide for the Syrian people and Syria as a country,” the Iranian leader added.

Iran has the ongoing Geneva talks are destined to fail because “influential parties” are absent.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon had withdrawn an invitation to Iran after Tehran refused to acknowledge Assad’s departure.

The United States said Iran’s absence in the Syria talks would not affect negotiations over its nuclear program.

“We have been very clear and the Iranians, I think, have been clear, certainly in our discussions, that these are separate issues,” State Department deputy spokeswoman Marie Harf told reporters.

“The nuclear negotiations are one set of negotiations, and the discussion about if Iran should go to Geneva II or what role they can play in Syria are completely separate,” Harf explained.

Despite more than three decades without diplomatic ties, American and Iranian officials broke the ice in recent months.

In exchange for Iran verifiably halting its suspect nuclear program, the United States and the European Union each announced an easing to sanctions as negotiated with world powers under an interim six-month deal that came into force Monday.

Meanwhile, Rowhani said that Tehran is negotiating with the United States as part of a “constructive engagement” with the world community and is seeking actions from Washington to back up its words.

Rouhani, speaking in Davos, also said relations with Europe will be normalized as an interim nuclear accord is implemented.

“I hereby announce that one of the theoretical and practical priorities of my government is constructive engagement with the world,” he added.

When WEF founder Klaus Schwab asked if Rowhani meant “the whole world,” the Iranian leader gave a more specific answer by saying: “The Islamic republic of Iran will reach out to all countries of the world that it has officially recognized.”

It is widely-known that Iranian presidents have repeatedly announced that their country’s official position is that it doesn’t recognize Israel as a state.

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