Rowhani: Syria solution ‘about govt, not leader’

Assad's main Mideast backer Iran President Hassan Rowhani said in an interview ‘it is up to the people to decide who leads them’

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Iran’s president said on Wednesday that any resolution of the Syrian conflict must focus on the need for strong government in Damascus, and not only on the fate of President Bashar al-Assad.

It is “not a question of a person, it is a question of security and stability,” Iranian President Hassan Rowhani said in an interview with French media, according to the France 2 television channel - though he did not mention Assad by name.

“We must all make efforts to eradicate terrorism in Syria and ensure that peace and stability return,” he said in the interview, also broadcast on Europe 1 radio.

As for who should run the country, “it is all in the hands of the Syrians. It is for them to decide who is their leader,” said Rowhani.

Iran is the main regional ally of Syria and provides Assad with financial and military aid, including military advisers on the ground.

Rowhani’s comments come ahead of a new round of international talks on Syria in Vienna on Saturday.

The talks will bring together around 20 countries and international bodies to try to agree on a roadmap for peace that would include a ceasefire between Assad’s forces and some opposition groups.

Diplomatic efforts to resolve the country’s more-than-four-year conflict have gathered pace since Russia launched air strikes in Syria in late September.

Previous attempts to bring an end to the conflict, which has killed more than 250,000 and forced millions from their homes, have stumbled over the fate of Assad, who the opposition and Western governments insist must go.

But regime allies Russia - which has waged weeks of intense air strikes against Syrian rebels - and Iran are resisting Western and Saudi pressure to force Assad from power.

“What country has managed to fight terrorism without a strong state to fight terrorism”, said Rowhani.

“We must first of all, in Syria, eradicate terrorism. It is the first priority... We must create security to that the people can come home.”

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