Iranian officials dispatched to Turkey, Syria
The Iranian foreign minister is traveling to Turkey, where he is expected to request Ankara's help securing the release of 48 Iranians being held in Syria by rebel forces.
Courtesy of Syrian News Agency (SANA)/Reuters
Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi is to visit¬†Turkey¬†on Tuesday for previously unscheduled talks expected to focus on¬†Syria¬†and a group of Iranians seized by rebels there, an Iranian diplomat in¬†Ankara¬†said.
Meanwhile, the secretary of Iran's Supreme National Security Council,¬†Saeed Jalili, arrived in¬†Syria¬†for talks with President¬†Bashar al-Assad¬†and other officials, Iranian state television IRIB said.
Iran has stood by its ally¬†Syria¬†despite the growing international pressure on Assad, while¬†Turkey¬†has been among the Syrian president's fiercest critics, demanding that he stand down to defuse a 17-month uprising against his rule.
The Iranian diplomat said Salehi was expected to arrive in the afternoon and leave later on Tuesday.
"It is expected that the talks will take up the Syrian issue and the situation of the pilgrims¬†kidnapped in¬†Damascus, as well as bilateral issues," the diplomat told Reuters.
Jalili, who arrived in¬†Syria¬†after wrapping a visit to¬†Lebanon, was scheduled to meet Assad and Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister¬†Ahmad Arnous, IRIB said. Jalili planned to hold a press conference at¬†Iran's embassy in Damascus¬†on Tuesday, it said.
Jalili acts as the representative of Iran's ultimate authority, Supreme Leader Ayatollah¬†Ali Khamenei, and is also Iran's chief negotiator in¬†Tehran's dispute with Western powers over its nuclear programm.
Khamenei decides Iran's foreign policy.
"We have always said that the solution to the problem in this country is democracy, which cannot be achieved through the export of arms and bloodshed," Jalili, referring to¬†Syria, was quoted as saying by the¬†Iranian Students' News Agency¬†during a meeting with Lebanese Foreign Minister Adnan Mansour.
Iran has asked¬†Turkey, as well as¬†Qatar, to help secure the release of 48 Iranians seized by rebels in¬†Syria¬†on suspicion of being military personnel, though¬†Tehran¬†says they are pilgrims.
A Syrian rebel spokesman said on Monday that three of the Iranians had been killed in a government air strike in¬†Damascus¬†and warned the rest of them would be executed if the attacks did not stop. There has been no word of their fate since then.
Syrian rebels fighting to topple Assad accuse Iran of sending fighters from its Revolutionary Guard to help Assad's forces put down the uprising.
Tehran¬†denies the charge and says the group was on a religious pilgrimage to¬†Syria. Iranian media said on Saturday that the 48 had been abducted from a bus in¬†Damascus, the latest in a string of kidnappings of visitors from the Islamic Republic.
Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister¬†Hossein Amir-Abdollahian¬†on Monday blamed¬†Turkey, the US and¬†Qatar¬†for the kidnappings, and Iran summoned a diplomat inSwitzerland's embassy in Tehran, which looks after American interests in the absence of a US embassy there, over the kidnappings, Iranian media reported.
"In the name of Islam, some of these governments have launched killings and even treat Iranian pilgrims¬†in¬†Syria¬†with violence. These crimes are not something the Iranian nation will disregard," Larijani said in a speech in parliament aired on Iranian television. "The American regime and some countries in the region are responsible for these crimes. And they will receive their response in turn."
Tehran¬†has accused¬†Turkey¬†and¬†Qatar¬†of helping rebels fighting to topple Assad. Several Iranians previously abducted in¬†Syria¬†have been released to Turkish authorities before returning to Iran.