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In Iran, columnist offers tough talk about Syria

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TEHRAN -- As battles rage across Syria, the crisis has provoked a renewed round of saber-rattling in Iran, President Bashar Assad’s staunchest international ally.

An influential columnist in an Iranian daily close to hard-liners gave a dire warning this week of the possibility of “world war” as global powers face off on Syria.

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Viewing the conflict in strictly geopolitical terms, columnist Sadollah Zaree wrote that a U.S-led “axis,” including Saudi Arabia and Turkey, sought to undermine the Syrian government, backed by allies Iran and Russia.

“The anti-Syrian measures are a high risk and can lead to world war,” Zaree thundered in an editorial published in the Kayhan newspaper. The pro-Assad bloc of Russia and Iran, he wrote, had “of course” significantly “more legitimacy.”

Some Iranian analysts brushed off the threat of Syria becoming a global conflict as “bluffing,” in the words of Nader Karimi Joni, an independent columnist. He, like many other analysts, views the possibility of a superpower confrontation about Syria as remote.

Reached by telephone in Tehran, Zaree elaborated somewhat, saying he didn’t think Iran and Russia would stand by idly in the event of foreign intervention in Syria aimed at ousting Assad.

“If Turkey and Saudi Arabia wage a war against Syria,” the columnist said, “then we reserve the right to defend Syria.”

Of course, Iran is already widely reported to have been providing logistical, financial and possibly military assistance to Syria. The Islamic Republic’s chief regional rival, Saudi Arabia, has likewise funneled aid to Syrian rebels.

The war warnings echo remarks by Brig. Gen. Masoud Jazayeri, deputy chief of Iran’s armed forces, who declared this week that the Islamic Republic ‘will not allow the enemy to advance’ in Syria. But the general added that he saw no need yet “for Syria’s circle of friends to fully enter the arena,” according to comments in Iran’s Shargh reformist daily.

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--Ramin Mostaghim. Alexandra Sandels in Beirut contributed.

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