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Iran foreign minister criticizes Syria strike plan

  • Article by: ADAM SCHRECK
  • Associated Press
  • September 8, 2013 - 9:55 AM

BAGHDAD — Iran's new foreign minister on Sunday criticized possible U.S.-led strikes on Syria as outside the bounds of the United Nations charter, saying the use of force is illegal.

Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif made the comments while visiting the Iraqi capital Baghdad. The visit, his first official trip since taking office last month, underscored the growing links between the two Shiite-led neighbors and their shared opposition to military strikes in Syria.

"I do not know why those who say all options are on the table do not understand the fact that civilized countries 65 years ago ... rejected in the charter of the United Nations (the) resort to force as an illegal practice," Zarif said, breaking away from his native Farsi during a press conference to speak in English in comments clearly directed at the United States and its allies.

Iran is the main regional backer of Syrian President Bashar Assad, whose regime also maintains strong ties to Russia. Assad's troops are battling largely Sunni rebels who receive support from Sunni countries such as Turkey and the Gulf states.

Zarif was met on arrival in Baghdad by his Iraqi counterpart, Hoshyar Zebari. He also held talks with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and the parliament speaker, Osama al-Nujaifi.

Although Iraq is officially neutral in the conflict, its Shiite leadership is worried about the threat posed by Sunni extremists, including Iraq's al-Qaida branch, fighting among the rebels. It repeatedly has called for a negotiated political solution to the crisis.

Nujaifi, Iraq's most senior Sunni Arab politician, also expressed concern about domestic fallout from a Syria strike Sunday.

"We believe that the strike will not benefit Syria, but instead it will spark a fire that could extend to Iraq and neighboring countries," he said. "A strike will not bring a solution to the crisis. It will only worsen the situation more and more."

Iraq's prime minister last week reiterated Baghdad's opposition to foreign involvement in the Syrian conflict, warning that a military strike could have unforeseen consequences.

Zarif echoed those fears in his comments in Baghdad, saying those "who want to start a war cannot control the course of the war or end it."

"The U.S. president has entered a trap set by others ... against his personal wishes. We hope that he would get out of this trap," Zarif said, according to a translation of his comments into Arabic.

The United States has been pressuring Iraq for months to do more to stop Iranian flights suspected of carrying weapons to Syria from transiting its airspace. Iraqi officials have carried out some spot checks of Iranian planes and say they've found nothing.

Iran and Iraq fought a ruinous war from 1980 to 1988. The two countries have bolstered ties considerably since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion that ousted Saddam Hussein.

Hundreds of thousands of Iranian pilgrims annually now visit Shiite holy sites in Iraq despite ongoing security risks, and Iraq is a major market for Iranian products. Iran has been increasingly cut off from the world's financial system following multiple rounds of sanctions over its disputed nuclear program. The Iraqi market offers it an important source of hard currency.

The Western-educated Zarif is the highest-ranking Iranian official to visit Iraq since President Hasan Rouhani came to office last month.

Rouhani is seen as more moderate than his predecessor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who paid a farewell visit to Baghdad and the Iraqi Shiite holy cities of Najaf and Karbala in July. An earlier visit by Ahmadinejad in 2008 was the first by an Iranian president since Iran's 1979 Islamic Revolution.

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