Syrian official visits Tehran amid fight for Aleppo
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TEHRAN — As fighting between rebels and government forces raged in the Syrian city of Aleppo, Syria’s foreign minister arrived Sunday in Iran for consultations with leaders of Syrian President Bashar Assad’s staunchest foreign ally.
The trip by Foreign Minister Walid Moallem seemed designed in part to demonstrate that Syria still has friends abroad, Iran chief among them, even as Assad’s determination to crush an armed uprising has drawn international condemnation from the United States and its allies.
But the unscheduled trip also underscored the extent to which the battle in Syria has become a proxy war pitting Syria and Iran, with diplomatic cover from Russia, against Western and Arab governments calling for Assad’s removal from power.
Whether Syria’s top diplomat was seeking additional aid from Tehran was not clear. Western and Arab governments backing the insurgency have charged that Iran has provided economic, logistical and intelligence support to its close ally.
In a joint news conference here with his Iranian counterpart, Ali Akbar Salehi, the Syrian foreign minister declared that his nation’s foes would be vanquished in Aleppo, as they were subdued in Damascus, the capital, earlier this month.
“They failed in that battle, so they moved to Aleppo, and their plot will fail there too,” Moallem assured reporters.
A fierce battle is ongoing for control of Aleppo, a strategic northern city that is Syria’s most populous and the nation’s commercial center.
Both diplomats warned that a destabilized Syria would have dangerous consequences for the region, a theme often sounded by Assad himself. The president and his supporters have repeatedly stressed the “stability” that the Assad family has brought to Syria during more than four decades of dynastic and autocratic rule.
“We seek restoring security and stability to the region,” the Iranian foreign minister said, according to the official Syrian news agency. “The region’s countries shouldn’t move in the wrong direction, because there will be consequences that could affect the whole world.”
It would be “illusory,” the Iranian diplomat warned, to think that a power vacuum in Damascus could be filled easily.
The Syrian foreign minister reiterated Assad’s oft-stated view that Syria is in the cross hairs of a “terrorist” foreign conspiracy hatched by the United States, Israel and various Arab states, a view that Iran has seconded.
“Syria is determined to fight this plot and defeat the provocateur and the armed terrorists, including those in Aleppo,” Moallem said.
— Ramin Mostaghim
Staff writer Patrick J. McDonnell in Beirut contributed to this story.