ABU DHABI (Reuters) - Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on Tuesday warned that hostilities in Syria could engulf the region and accused some Syrians of trying to use their country’s conflict to settle scores with Tehran.
In comments to Al Jazeera television, Ahmadinejad said that a national dialogue and new elections - rather than war - were the only way to solve the Syrian crisis, saying the Syrian people should choose their own path.
“There is another way to find a solution, it is national, mutual understanding in order for there to be elections in the future,” he said.
The interview was translated from Persian into Arabic by Al Jazeera. He made similar remarks at a news conference in Tehran.
“We don’t say what they should do. We help them sit down and reach a mutual understanding ... We don’t say who should go and who should stay, this would be interfering in countries’ affairs. But we say it is people’s right to choose,” he told the news conference.
Every world power involved in the Syrian crisis “had (made) its own mistakes,” he said, warning that the Syrian conflict would spread to other countries in the region if it was left unsolved.
“Tomorrow, the atmosphere in Jordan may be like what Syria is experiencing. Thus, we must search for a practical and good solution for all the people’s of the area, otherwise catastrophes will fall upon us all.”
Iran is a staunch ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who has been battling an uprising against his rule. Opposition activists say 30,000 people have been killed in the 18-month-old revolt, which has grown into a full-scale civil war.
Ahmadinejad suggested the Syrian crisis was being used to try to undermine Iran.
“All the Syrian people are respectable, but some want to settle accounts with Iran,” he said.
Iran has been hit by international sanctions over its disputed nuclear program, which the West believes is aimed at producing nuclear weapons, a charge Tehran denies.
Tehran is also at odds with Gulf Arab states that are backing Syrian rebels seeking to topple Assad and who accuse Tehran of fomenting unrest among Shi‘ite Muslim communities in their countries.
Washington and its Gulf Arab allies resisted attempts by former U.N. and Arab League peace envoy Kofi Annan to involve Iran in diplomatic efforts to resolve the Syria crisis, saying Tehran was part of the problem.
Ahmadinejad said he feared that calls for military intervention in Syria were growing.
“I have opposed war, but those who want things to be settled through dialogue are a minority and perhaps the majority are in favor of going ahead in the context of war,” he said.
Iran had long enjoyed good relations with Syria, he added, conceding that Iran may have given “advice” to Damascus in the past. But he appeared to skirt the question of whether Tehran supplies arms to Syria.
“Let’s assume that we supplied the Syrian side with weapons, would the problems be resolved? Is the regime going to sit there forever?” he said.
Reporting by Raissa Kasolowsky in Abu Dhabi and Ahmed Tolba in Cairo; Additional reporting by Zahra Hosseinian in Zurich; Editing by Sami Aboudi and Andrew Osborn