PHOTO: Supreme Leader’s top aide Ali Akbar Velayati “Alternative to Assad does not exist”
UPDATE 1100 GMT: President Assad hosted the top aide of Iran’s Supreme Leader in Damascus on Saturday.
No details were given of the discussion. State news agency SANA posted an account in which Assad denounced foreign-supported terrorism and expressed appreciation for Iranian support.
SANA declared, “The two sides asserted that the counter-terrorism front led by Syria, Iran and Russia constitutes a foundation stone for eradicating terrorism and extremism as well as re-establishing security and stability in Syria and the region.”
Iranian State outlet Press TV quoted Velayati as saying, “[Iran] will mobilize all resources to fight the terrorists that are perpetrating crimes against oppressed nations in the region, regardless of the ridiculous categorization of those terrorists as moderates and extremists.”
The top aide to Iran’s Supreme Leader has repeated that Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad should remain in power for five more years, despite the civil war threatening his regime.
Speaking with Lebanon’s pro-Assad outlet al-Akhbar, Ali Akbar Velayati repeated the statement that he first issued last month about Assad’s stay in power. He said that the President should remain until the end of his seven-year term, declared in 2014 in a nominal Presidential election won by Assad with more than 88% of the official vote.
The declaration is a subtle shift from Velayati’s position, put out since last November, that Assad’s survival is an open-ended “red line” for Tehran.
The Iranian regime signaled last month that it might support the Syrian leader’s “voluntary” departure, with Intelligence Minister Mahmoud Alavi saying asylum in Iran had been offered to Assad’s family. However, Assad quickly responded that his wife and children would stay in Damascus like any other patriotic Syrian family.
Velayati, who arrived in Syria on Friday, hinted that Russia might have wanted Assad to leave before the five-year timetable. He said, “The Russians have also realized that an alternative to Assad and the ruling group with him does not exist.”
The former Foreign Minister proclaimed “a common will of [Iran and Russia] in strengthening…cooperation and its promotion in the future, with “strategic cooperation” bringing “tangible achievements”.
Ignoring recent gains of territory by Syria’s rebels — including the defeat of Iranian-led forces south of Aleppo — Velayati asserted, “There is every day more military achievements realized on the ground in the interest of the Syrian state, even if there is sometimes ebb-and-flow of movement for the benefit of some of the armed groups.”
Foreign Minister Zarif Shows Concern Over Foreign Investment
Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif has shown concern over whether Iran can attract badly-needed foreign investment after the implementation of the nuclear deal with the 5+1 Powers.
Speaking to newly-elected members of Parliament on Saturday, Zarif declared:
Our enemies, especially the Zionists are desperately seeking to induce unsafe conditions in Iran and to deter foreign investors from participating in Iran. Consequently, we must promote the fact that Iran is the safest and most profitable country for investment regardless of differences in views.
The Rouhani Government has based its economic policy on a post-sanctions recovery through increases in Iran’s oil exports, trade, and investment. The approach has been backed up by visits of foreign leaders — including from Italy, Germany, France, and South Korea — to Tehran and by President Rouhani’s journeys to France, Italy, and Turkey.
However, the Government is still facing a web of US sanctions — a situation which has fed the Supreme Leader’s denunciations of Washington and pressure on President Rouhani — and is still awaiting investment in key sectors like energy.
Zarif said Saturday, “The fact is that the sanctions against the Islamic Republic of Iran have been lifted paving the path for more active participation in the region, though many groups, which were advancing their misguided policies in the light of Iranophobia, are not content with the new situation and try to introduce Iran as a threat.”
Tehran Friday Prayer: “We Will Rip Our Rights From America’s Throat”
Iran’s Friday Prayer leaders played out the internal battle over the July 2015 nuclear deal, with some clerics denouncing the US and challenging the Government but others defending the agreement.
In Tehran, Hojatoleslam Kazem Sedighi focused on the recent US Supreme Court decision allowing families of those killed by terrorism to sue for up to $2 billion in frozen Iranian assets: “We condemn the encroachment of the thieving, worthless American bullies who violated the spirit of the JCPOA [Joint Comprehensive Plan of Agreement] and whose courts confiscated Iran’s money with the support of their government.”
Sedighi insisted that the US “is on the path of decline, and we will rip our rights from America’s throat”.
Ilam’s leader, Hojatoleslam Mohammad Naghi Lotfi turned on the Government over January’s implementation of the deal. He argued that “the JCPOA has neither improved the living conditions of the people nor rescued the country’s ailing economy….Economists testify that living conditions have worsened and stagnation has deepened.”
The cleric criticized Rouhani administration officials for “having tied the resolution of all the people’s problems to the nuclear negotiations” and claimed that this led to “negligence towards economic planning in the country”.
But in the holy city of Qom, Ayatollah Ali Reza Arafi said senior clerics and Islamic scholars support the JCPOA:
[It] has followed all of the legal procedures. The Principlist Parliament ratified it and the Supreme Leader confirmed it. The content is clear. In this way, some people’s opposition to the JCPOA does not have justification.
Arafi also endorsed the Rouhani Government’s foreign policy of engagement, “To pass through crises, we must stress dialogue and interaction with the world.”
(Hat tip to Iran Tracker for translations)
Revolutionary Guards Acknowledges Deaths in Rebel Offensive South of Aleppo
Breaking its silence over the battle near Aleppo, the Revolutionary Guards has acknowledged the deaths of several of its troops in this week’s advance by rebels and the jihadists of Jabhat al-Nusra.
The Guards said “several Iranian advisors” were killed by “Takfiri terrorists”, as the rebel-Nusra offensive captured the town of Khan Tuman near the Aleppo-to-Damascus highway.
Fars News, the outlet of the Guards, said 13 troops were killed and 20 injured; however, it is not clear if all the casualties were in the Khan Tuman battles.
Mashregh News said the casualties were all from the Guards’ Mazandaran Division.
— Michael Horowitz (@michaelh992) May 7, 2016
(Cross-posted from Syria Daily)