Russia’s highly-touted “peace” talks between an Assad regime delegation and members of the domestic opposition had an unexpected guest on Wednesday: the Supreme Leader’s top foreign policy aide, Ali Akbar Velayati.
Officially, Velayati delivered a message from President Rouhani to Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin requesting that Iran be promoted from observer to member status of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, in a meeting lasting more than an hour.
However, Iranian State media also said there was discussion of “bilateral political and economic ties as well as Tehran’s nuclear talks with the Sextet of world powers”.
There was no mention of Syria; however, Velayati just happened to be in Moscow as Russia brought together the Syrian regime’s team, led by Ambassador to the UN Bashar al-Jaafri, with 34 individuals from domestic opposition groups.
Iran and Russia have been essential backers of Syrian President Assad, rejecting plans for his removal in a transitional government. Tehran has provided military support through its commanders, troops, and weapons, and it gave an economic lifeline to Damascus with a $3.6 billion line of credit in July 2013.
On January 18, an Iranian commander and several personnel, along with Hezbollah commanders and fighters, were killed in an Israeli airstrike on vehicles in southwest Syria. Iran has threatened retaliation against Israel over the attack, and Hezbollah killed two Israeli soldiers and wounded seven on Wednesday, firing five Russian-made Kornet missiles on a military convoy near the Lebanese-Syrian border and the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights.
Human Rights Activist Mohammadi Detained for Trying to Meet VP of German Parliament
Human rights activist Narges Mohammadi was detained by security agents for several hours after she tried to meet with the Vice President of the German Parliament, Claudia Roth, in Tehran on Sunday afternoon.
Mohammadi, of the Center for Defenders of Human Rights, was released at midnight after she was interrogated and threatened with imprisonment.
The activist has been harassed for years by Iranian authorities. Arrested amid the mass protests in 2009 and charged with propaganda against the state, she was sentenced to 11 years in prison in October 2011, with the term reduced to six years on appeal. She was released on health grounds in 2013 on bail of 600 million Toman (approximately $200,000), but is still banned from foreign travel.
Mohammadi was also repeatedly summoned by prison officials after she and other women’s and human rights activists met the European Union’s foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton in Tehran in March 2014.
Roth, who visited Iran for five days last week, said on her return to Germany, “We realized security agents are present everywhere; [therefore] the discussions and meetings we had in mind did not take place. We were unable to meet with human rights activists. Severe fear and control ruled.”
Iranian hardliners demanded that the Foreign Ministry summon the German Ambassador after Roth’s visit. They were angered that, meeting reformist politician Mohammad Reza Aref, Roth expressed concern about the four-year house arrests imposed on opposition leaders Mir Hossein Mousavi, Zahra Rahnavard, and Mehdi Karroubi.
Senior Iranian Official: “Even Israel’s Nuclear Weapons Are Within Reach of Hezbollah’s Missiles”
Thursday’s threat to Israel comes from Hossein Sheikholeslam, the top advisor to Speaker of Parliament Ali Larijani, who says that Israeli nuclear weapons are within reach of the missiles of the Lebanese organization Hezbollah.
Speaking a day after a Hezbollah missile attack killed two Israeli soldiers and wounded seven, Sheikholeslam said even the Dimona district — the center of Israel’s nuclear program — can be struck by Hezbollah.
The official said Hezbollah’s “astounding military victory” show that it could conduct a blitz at the earliest opportunity, in pursuit of its goal of the annihilation of the Zionist regime.
FM Zarif: No More Extensions in Nuclear Talks
Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif has said there will be no further extensions of nuclear talks with the 5+1 Powers (US, Britain, Germany, China, Russia, and France) if a comprehensive agreement is not signed.
Iran and the 5+1 Powers have set a deadline of July 1 for resolution. Last year, they twice extended the deadline, allowing for continuation of talks and interim arrangements.
The Foreign Minister told Fars News Agency on Wednesday, “It is too difficult to imagine that this time can be extended again.”
He added, “I believe that the other side should understand this reality: if it wants to reach an agreement with Iran, it won’t be possible through keeping pressure, as Iranians don’t strike agreements under pressure.”
Zarif maintained, however, that a final deal is “completely possible”: “We don’t have any problems and our nuclear program is completely peaceful and all measures which are due to be adopted are aimed at ensuring them that this program is peaceful and no problem exists in this regard.”
Iran and representatives of France, Germany, and Britain meet today. Zarif said no decision had been reached on a discussion with the 5+1 in early February on the sidelines of the Munich Security Conference.