India attends Iran meet on Syria war


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Mar 24, 2009
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NEW DELHI: India was represented by a mid-level official at a last-minute international meeting on Syria organized by Iran in Tehran on Thursday. The hurriedly-convened meeting is ostensibly aimed to help stop the continuing violence and start a political dialogue. But since Iran is Damascus' principal backer, the effort is also being seen as an initiative to shore up support for beleaguered Syrian President Basher-al Assad, who the West want out of power.

Rajeev Shahare, joint secretary in the West Asia North Africa (WANA) division of the MEA, arrived in Tehran on Thursday morning to join 27 countries at the meeting, including China and Russia. The others at the table included a motley crew of nations from Asia, Africa and Latin America. As a member of the UN Security Council, MEA officials said it was important for India to get a rounded view of events and developments relating to Syria. The meeting was at the foreign ministers' level, with Pakistan, Iraq and Zimbabwe sending their foreign ministers.

India has been virtually all over the place on Syria, especially in the UN. Having abstained from the first vote in 2011, India voted against Assad in February. At the Human Rights Council in Geneva, India voted against the Syrian regime's violations in May, but abstained from a second vote in early July. Later in July, India voted in favour of a fairly critical UNSC resolution on Syria, but later in the month abstained from a vote in the UN General Assembly. The inconsistency of the Indian position has less to do with the situation in Syria than New Delhi's own political compulsions. Syria has been on a steady deteriorating slope for the past year, and the stalemate between the warring sides has remained more or less steady. But India's vote has been influenced by everything from its commitment to secularism and therefore a support of Assad, to India's ties with the Gulf Arab countries who want to go after Iran and Syria and Indian distaste of externally induced solutions to internal crises.

According to Iranian TV, Iranian foreign minister Ali Akbar Salehi, who opened the meeting said, "Iran has a strong belief that the only solution to the crisis is through serious, all-encompassing national dialogue between the opposition, which has popular support, and the Syrian government to establish calm and security." He added, "The Islamic Republic of Iran is opposed to any foreign interference and military intervention in resolving the Syrian crisis. Iran supports the efforts by the UN secretary general (Ban Ki-moon) in peacefully resolving the Syrian crisis," he said.

Western and Gulf Arab countries were not invited, while Lebanon (which this week arrested a former minister with ties to Assad), Turkey and Kuwait refused to come. According to Iran, the countries present were, Afghanistan, Algeria, Armenia, Benin, Belarus, China, Cuba, Ecuador, Georgia, India, Indonesia, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Maldives, Mauritania, Nicaragua, Oman, Russia, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Tajikistan, Tunisia, Turkmenistan and Venezuela.

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