LATEST: Iranian Official Denies Rafsanjani Comments on Assad and Chemical Weapons
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A dramatic and curious incident on Sunday afternoon, with the Iranian Labor News Agency’s shifting reports on the words of former President Hashemi Rafsanjani.
ILNA reported Rafsanjani’s unequivocal denunciation of the Assad regime for use of chemical weapons near Damascus: “The people have been the target of chemical attacks by their own government and now they must also wait for an attack by foreigners.”
Rafsanjani continued, “The people of Syria have seen much damage in these two years, the prisons are overflowing and they’ve converted stadiums into prisons, more than 100,000 people killed and millions displaced show the plight of Syria more than ever before.”
However, it soon “modified” the remarks and tucked them behind the former President’s claimed comments about unemployment.
Amir Paivar of BBC Persian:
— Amir Paivar (@amirpaivar) September 1, 2013
— Amir Paivar (@amirpaivar) September 1, 2013
On Friday, Naeimeh Eshraghi, the granddaughter of Ayatollah Khomeini, wrote on her Facebook page:
In a meeting with governors of Isfahan in a hosseinieh [religious center] in Jamaran, [Rafsanjani said that] a government that uses chemical bombs against its people will face hard consequences, just like Saddam, who earned eternal shame in the bombing of Halabja and suffered such a horrible fate.
After accusations that she had lied, Eshraghi said that while she was not present at the conference, the quote was confirmed both by her husband and a journalist from the reformist Shargh newspaper, both of whom were at the meeting.
The opposition website Kalemeh claimed Rafsanjani said, “In this country [Syria], they are bombing people with chemicals, just like the chemical bombing against Iran during the imposed war [by Iraq in the 1980s, and many people died.”
The Director of Public Affairs of the Expediency Council, Reza Soleimani, has disputed the statement by Naimeh Eshraqi, the granddaughter of Ayatollah Khomeini, that former President Hashemi Rafsanjani accused the Assad regime of using chemical weapons in Syria.
The official, speaking to Fars News, said, “Rafsanjani had reemphasized the strategic importance of Syria in the region, as a stronghold against Israel….Rafsanjani’s stance on Syria and Palestine is clear and can’t be distorted by [Eshraqi’s] rumor.”
Eshraqi’s Facebook entry, posted last week, said Rafsanjani — the head of the Expediency Council — had made the comments about the Syrian regime and chemical weapons in a meeting in northern Tehran.
According to Soleimani:
Hashemi told the meeting that chemical weapons had also been used in Syria. But there was no discussion about Assad’s government in this area.
And America wants a pretext to attack Syria and so Hashemi’s words have been distorted and Ms. Eshraqi’s comments as the basis of that interpretation.
It is not clear if Soleimani was speaking on Rafsanjani’s behalf.
Press TV — aiming at an international, English-speaking audience — quotes Iran’s powerful Parliament speaker, Ali Larijani, as saying Sunday that there is a “wave of international hatred” against the U.S. over its “warmongering” in the Middle East:
“The Americans do not see the wave of popular hatred of their warmongering policies and still pursue military action against Syria,” he is quoted as saying, noting that the “British parliament has declared its opposition to military action and this move has been rejected by the UN as well”.
Larijani adds, according to Press TV: “They (the US) say they have evidence of the use of chemical weapons so why are they not presenting this evidence to the Security Council?”
An Iranian Parliamentary delegation met Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in Damascus on Sunday.
The delegation, led by the head of the National Security and Foreign Policy Committee, Alaeddin Boroujerdi, has also seen Prime Minister Wael al-Halqi and Foreign Minister Walid al-Muallem.
Boroujerdi declared, after meeting the Speaker of the Syrian Parliament on Saturday, “As representatives of the Islamic Republic of Iran, we once again inform Syrian officials and the international community of our opposition to any attack and war on Syria.”
While confusion and controversy build over his possible remarks condemning the Syrian regime’s use of chemical weapons, former President Hashemi Rafsanjani has used Twitter for the safer ground of criticizing the US:
The main goal of America’s adventure in the region is not limited to Syria
[3:23:56 PM] Joanna Paraszczuk:
هاشمی: هدف اصلی آمریکا از ماجراجویی در منطقه محدود به سوریه نیست و کل خاورمیانه را در بر میگیرد/ پایان جنگ در اختیار آمریکا و متحدانش نیست
— هاشمی رفسنجانی (@hashemi1392) August 31, 2013
At least 15 people were killed in clashes with security forces following a mortar attack on an Iranian dissident camp north of the Iraqi capital Baghdad on Sunday, two security sources said.
The sources said that it was not immediately clear who had fired the mortars, and all the deaths were in the subsequent confrontations between security forces and camp residents.
One of the sources said Iraqi security forces had opened fire on a crowd which stormed a post at the entrance to Camp Ashraf. About 50 people were wounded, the source said.
The Mujahadin-e-Khalq (MEK) insurgent group said 44 of about 100 members in the camp had been killed by Iraqi security forces. Some of them were machine-gunned with their hands tied behind their backs, MEK claimed.
The MEK have been trying since 1979 to overthrow the Iranian regime, having split from it following the Islamic Revolution.
Mortar attacks on a newer MEK camp in a former military compound in western Baghdad, where Iraqi uthorities had relocated most Camp Ashraf MEK members, took place in February and June.
The United Nations in Iraq strongly condemned Sunday’s “tragic events”, without giving details on what had happened: “The priority for the Iraqi government is to provide immediate medical assistance to the injured and to ensure their security and safety against any violence from any side.”
There were two distinct messages from Iran on Saturday. The first came from the Revolutionary Guards, who threaten an asymmetric response and the second from Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif.
The Revolutionary Guards, via media outlets close to them, warn that Iran will respond to U.S. strikes on Syria indirectly via allied groups including Palestinian PFLP and Fatah and Lebanese Hezbollah (see separate analysis: Revolutionary Guards Push For “Asymmetric Warfare” Over Syria.)
Meanwhile,, Foreign Minister Zarif continues to push Damascus’s line — back up also by Moscow — that the August 21 chemical attack was carried out by foreign-backed insurgent groups. Zarif said that Tehran gave Washington information on the transfer of chemical agents, including sarin, from outside Syria at the end of 2012, “but the U.S. never replied”.
Playing on Western fears — already exaggerated in the Western media — of the ascendency of “Al Qaeda-linked groups” in Syria, Zarif said that “extremist groups” could well have used chemical agents. Zarif added that “takfiri groups” had encouraged “fratricide” and “war” and the result of this were the horrific images that we have seen in the media of the chemical attacks.