Baghdad, Asharq Al-Awsat—Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif has reiterated his country’s support for Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad during a meeting with Assad in Damascus on Wednesday, according to Syrian state television.
Zarif is visiting the Syrian capital just a week before international parties are set to meet in Switzerland for the Geneva II peace conference aimed at resolving the Syrian conflict.
Iran is unlikely to be invited to participate in the conference due to international concerns about its support for the Syrian regime, which is thought to include billions of dollars in financial support and military equipment.
In an earlier visit to Iraq on Tuesday, Zarif reiterated Iran’s commitment to “do all it can to find a political solution to the Syrian crisis” during a meeting with Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri Al-Maliki in Baghdad.
Following his meeting with Maliki, the Iranian foreign minister stressed the importance of making “every effort to prevent Syria turning into a base for extremism and terrorism,” adding that Iraq could play an important role in resolving the Syrian crisis.
But Adnan Al-Sarraj, head of the Iraqi Center for Media Development and a leading member of Maliki’s State of Law Coalition, told Asharq Al-Awsat that Iran was using the visit to put “pressure on the United States, which proposed a number of principles for the participation in Geneva II that Iran rejected.”
In a press conference following a meeting with his Iraqi counterpart, Hoshyar Zebari, Zarif said: “We have previously said an invitation to Iran must be unconditional and respectful to the Iranian people but, regretfully, there were pressures applied by some parties to place preconditions that would prevent our attendance.”
In the same press conference, the Iraqi foreign minister told reporters that the Iraqi position “is to support the attendance of all concerned parties in the crisis, including Iran. This stance has been reiterated by Iraq in the international arena, because the participation of all, and relying on the basis of Geneva I, is the best way for the international political process to move forward.”
Explaining the opportunities for the two neighbors to cooperate on border and security issues, Zarif added: “We have joint challenges to confront, and there is no doubt that Iraq has been a victim of extremism and terrorism.”
In another meeting in Baghdad on Tuesday, Zarif met Iraqi Parliament Speaker Osama Al-Nujaifi to discuss developments in the Anbar governorate. A joint statement after the meeting simply stressed “the importance of resolving the Anbar crisis and clearing up political and security issues through cooperation between Iraqi political forces.”