DUBAI (Reuters) - Iran will form a team with other non-aligned countries to explore solutions to the crisis in Syria, the Iranian foreign minister said on Wednesday, and U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon called on Iran to use its influence to help end the violence there.
Iran says the 120-nation Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) summit in its capital proves U.S. efforts to isolate it over its nuclear program and support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad have failed. A resolution on Syria would help Tehran argue that its ties with Damascus are benign.
“At a time when many other international organizations have gotten involved in the Syria issue, it’s not right that the Non-Aligned Movement take a back seat,” Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi told a press conference on Wednesday.
“It was recommended that the NAM troika get involved, with cooperation with other international organizations, specifically the United Nations.”
Such a troika would include Egypt, Iran and Venezuela, as the former, current and future holders of the NAM rotating presidency, as well as Lebanon and Iraq, said senior Iranian lawmaker Alaeddin Boroujerdi, who visited Syria this week for meetings with senior officials, in comments to Fars news agency.
U.N. chief Ban and met Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in Tehran on Wednesday.
Ban urged Iran’s leaders to use their influence to call on Assad to end the violence and create conditions for “credible dialogue and a genuine political process that meets the will of the Syrian people,” Ban’s spokesman Martin Nesirky said.
“The secretary-general reiterated his opposition to the further militarization of the conflict and called on all states to stop supplying arms to all sides in Syria,” he said.
Tehran has steadfastly backed Assad since an uprising began last year, describing the president as a key part of its “axis of resistance” against Israel and Western influence in the Middle East.
Iran has also asked NAM members to back its call for a ceasefire in Syria, Boroujerdi said.
“The Islamic Republic of Iran is ready to make any effort on the basis of its beliefs and its religious principles to solve the crisis in Syria,” state television quoted Khamenei as saying.
Tehran blames the West and Sunni Muslim Gulf countries of fuelling Syria’s civil war by supporting the rebels.
“This proxy war is the reality of the Syria crisis today,” said Khamenei, the most powerful figure in Iran. “Solving the crisis in Syria has one natural requirement, which is preventing the sending of arms to ... groups in Syria.”
Iran supported a failed U.N.-Arab League peace plan and says it should be involved in future efforts to end the conflict.
Iran’s proposal for a three-month ceasefire has been presented to NAM foreign ministers for discussion, Abdullahian said, and the outcome will be presented at the end of the summit on Friday.
Ban also addressed Iran’s nuclear program, which the West suspects is aimed at developing an atomic bomb. Iran says its program is peaceful but has been hit by four rounds of U.N. sanctions for refusing to halt its uranium enrichment program.
“On the nuclear question ... he said that he regretted that little tangible progress has been achieved so far,” Nesirky said. “He said that Iran needed to take concrete steps to address the concerns of the International Atomic Energy Agency and prove to the world that its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes.”
Ban also expressed concern about human rights in Iran and said he strongly objected to recent anti-Israel remarks by Iran’s leaders, Nesirky said.
Speaking in Jerusalem on Wednesday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who had lobbied for Ban to skip the summit, said 120 countries were in Tehran “saluting a regime that not only denies the Holocaust but pledges to annihilate the Jewish state, brutalizes its own people, colludes in the murder of thousands of innocent Syrians and leads millions in chanting “Death to America, death to Israel.”
“So many in the international community appear to have learned nothing. I think this is a disgrace and a stain on humanity.”
Egyptian President Mohammad Mursi - due to attend the summit as the first Egyptian leader in Iran since the 1979 Islamic revolution - is also expected to present his own plan for Syria.
Last week, he spoke of forming a contact group comprising Egypt, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Turkey to resolve the crisis, an initiative the Iranian leadership is keen to pursue.
“When Mr. Mursi comes to Tehran we’ll see whether there will be other initiatives by NAM. We’ll have to cross our fingers and see how things move,” Iranian Foreign Ministry official Mohammad Mehdi Akhoundzadeh told state television on Tuesday.
But speaking to Reuters earlier this week, Mursi called for Assad to be removed from power, something Tehran would oppose.
Mursi’s message could also prevent the normalization of diplomatic relations between Cairo and Tehran which broke down over Egypt’s peace agreement with Israel.
The NAM summit was a tricky balancing act for the Egyptian president, said Dina Esfandiary, an analyst at the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London. Egypt is formally handing over the NAM presidency to Iran during the summit.
“This was a bit of a catch-22 situation for Mursi,” Esfandiary said. “He would have attracted criticism either way, and only chose the option of going because it seemed the least controversial thing to do.
“Not going would have been quite pointed. Stopping in Tehran for only a few hours enables him to avoid making a strong anti-Iran statement.”
Additional reporting by Michelle Nichols at the United Nations and Allyn Fisher-Ilan in Jerusalem; Editing by Jon Hemming