by Jasmin Ramsey
Related to my earlier post on surprising statements from what’s believed to be Iranian president Hassan Rouhani’s English Twitter account is Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif’s condemnation of foreign military intervention Syria, which Omid Memarian suggests I should have emphasized more. The Iranian Student News Agency reports that during a telephone call with his German counterpart, Zarif welcomed the completion of the UN’s inspection of sites where chemical weapons were allegedly used, advised against making hasty decisions on the issue and strongly condemned any outside military force in Syria, saying that it would only make the situation worse.
But my question persists: why has Rouhani not made these statements himself as of yet? It could very well be that when push comes to shove, he will. LobeLog contributor Wayne White tells me that “quite possibly Rouhani simply wanted his government to be on the record as reiterating Iran’s opposition to chemical weapons use while at the same time planning not to accept that his Syrian ally used them and preparing to condemn anyone using force against the Assad regime for doing so.” But Rouhani’s chosen words on his English Twitter account could also be, as Suzanne Maloney noted to me, indicative of a “a more moderate course on Iran’s foreign policy and even on the sensitive issue of Syria”. This may be the case even if he submits to pressure for him to take a harsher stance.
And here’s another interesting angle to this story. The perceptive Laura Rozen reports that the visit of the UN’s Under Secretary for Political Affairs Jeffrey Feltman to Tehran at this time is a sign of intensifying UN diplomacy on Syria:
Feltman, in his meetings in Iran, discussed “the worsening situation on the ground in Syria, including the U.N.’s grave concerns about the potential use of chemical weapons and how the U.N. can work together with Iran and other states to end the bloodshed and suffering of the Syrian people,” [UN spokesman Farhan] Haq said.
“Unclear as yet is if, in exchange for Iran not overreacting to any U.S. action in Syria, the U.S. will acquiesce to Iran attending Geneva2, or indeed, given Feltman’s reported discussions in Iran, whether it had already done so. Both Russia and the UN’s [Lakhdar] Brahimi have repeatedly stated that Iran should be able to attend,” writes Rozen.
Adding to my fascination with all this is the fact Omani Sultan Qaboos bin Said al-Said was also in Tehran this week. As this Economist editorial notes, the sultan has a history of serving as a messenger between Iran and the US and could be one on Syria:
Al-Hayat, a pan-Arab newspaper, quoted sources in Iran as saying that the trip was “not normal and does not fall under normal protocol”. Bahar, a publication linked to Iran’s newly-empowered reformist bloc, reported that the sultan was visiting as a precursor to future talks between America and Iran to negotiate a deal on greater nuclear transparency in exchange for sanctions relief. Fararu, a reformist-leaning website, has suggested that a new back channel might be established between the two countries, to pave the way for discussions over Iran’s disputed nuclear programme as well as the crisis in Syria.
Photo: Iranian FM Javad Zarifi meets with UN political affairs chief Jeffrey Feltman in Tehran. Credit: Mona Hoobehfekr