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WAR REPORT
A Syria solution must have Assad's blessing: minister
by Staff Writers
Damascus (AFP) Dec 01, 2013


Syria on agenda as Iraq's PM to visit Iran: media
Tehran (AFP) Dec 01, 2013 - Iraq's Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki will visit neighbouring Iran on Wednesday to discuss bilateral relations between the two Shiite-majority countries as well as the Syria conflict, Iranian media reported.

The visit will be Maliki's first to Tehran since Hassan Rouhani, a relative moderate who champions engagement with the West, became Iran's president in August after defeating a pool of conservative candidates in June's election.

The official IRNA news agency said Maliki would hold talks with Iranian officials in Tehran on Wednesday, while the Fars news agency said he would also visit Mashhad, a holy city for Shiites, during his two day trip.

According to other media reports, the Iraqi delegation will also discuss ongoing work to clear ordnance from the strategic Shatt al-Arab waterway -- known in Iran as the Arvand river -- which became a front during the 1980-1988 Iran-Iraq war.

The reports said discussions would centre on the conflict in Syria. Iran is a key ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's regime, while Iraq has suffered from a surge in attacks by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), an Al-Qaeda affiliate that has exploited Syria's chaos and carried out attacks on both sides of its border with Iraq.

Iraq and Iran are at odds over the next secretary general of the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), with both countries fiercely backing their respective candidates in a vote due in Vienna later this month.

Another issue likely to be discussed is the hosting by Iraq of Iranian dissidents, the People's Mujahedeen Organisation of Iran, in a camp near Baghdad.

The PMOI was founded in the 1960s to oppose the shah of Iran and later the country's clerical rulers, and set up camp in Iraq during Saddam Hussein's war with Iran.

It was disarmed after the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, and today's Shia-majority and Tehran-friendly government in Baghdad is eager to see it move elsewhere.

No solution proposed at Syria peace talks next month will be implemented without President Bashar al-Assad's approval, the deputy foreign minister said in remarks published Sunday.

"The Syrian (government) delegation at Geneva will be working under Assad's directives, and any solutions proposed will have no impact unless Assad approves of them," Faisal Muqdad said in remarks in the Syrian press.

He lashed out at Western calls for Assad to step down, saying the president "represents Syria's sovereignty and unity".

The US-Russian peace initiative dubbed Geneva 2, which should bring government and rebel representatives to the negotiating table in a bid to end the bloody 32-month war, is being planned for January 22.

The opposition has agreed to attend the talks on condition that they lead to a transitional phase that excludes Assad and his regime.

But government officials and their backers in Iran and Russia insist there should be no preconditions, and Assad has also said he would be willing to stand for re-election in 2014.

The proposed talks come amid rising international fears of an Islamist takeover in Syria.

According to Muqdad, "in their closed meetings, Western leaders say there is no replacement for Assad".

He also said that at Geneva 2, "we will gather around the table and we will discuss, without foreign interference... and there will be an enlarged government".

Muqdad reiterated his government's "reservations about participation (in Geneva 2) by representatives of the armed terrorist groups," the government term for rebels.

He also said opposition backer Turkey "has started to change its policy" on Syria.

Once an Assad ally, Ankara became the lead voice calling for regime change after Damascus cracked down on peaceful protests that later morphed into a bloody insurgency.

More recently, the rise of jihadism in Syria has made Turkey more cautious on the conflict raging across its southern border.

Muqdad criticised "the stupid Turkish policy which has compromised the Turkish people... by attracting Al-Qaeda" to its territory.

According to Ankara, 500 Turks have joined jihadist ranks in Syria.

Last week, a Turkish delegation led by Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu visited Assad's main regional backer Iran. The Turkish and Iranian diplomatic chiefs both said they would press for a ceasefire ahead of Geneva 2.

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