DAVOS, Switzerland: Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said on Wednesday there could be no military solution to the devastating war in Syria and vowed to throw Tehran’s weight behind a political solution.
Appearing at a gathering of political and business leaders in Switzerland just days after Iran sealed a historic deal ending punishing sanctions by the West over its nuclear program, Zarif said Iran was now determined to help end a conflict in Syria that has killed more than 250,000 people and left millions displaced.
“There is no military solution to the (Syrian) crisis. We need a political solution. Everyone must understand that,” he told the elite meeting in the snow-covered ski resort of Davos.
Zarif said Iran believed a ceasefire in Syria was required before a national unity government could be set up and elections based on a new constitution held.
“We are determined to assist in this process,” he said.
Iran wanted the region to make common cause against “our common threat—extremism,” he said.
He said the Islamic State jihadists and the Al-Qaeda-linked Al-Nusra — another extremist group that is fighting the rule of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in Syria — were “ravaging our entire region and ravaging the world.”
‘Bizarre US decision’
But Zarif criticized a US decision on Sunday to reimpose some sanctions, this time over Iran’s missile program, calling the move “bizarre.”
“I find it rather bizarre that the United States expresses concern over the Iranian missile program, which is defensive and does not violate any current international regulation,” Zarif told an audience of bankers and top business figures.
The US Treasury on Sunday announced new sanctions on individuals and companies in connection with Iran’s ballistic missile program, with President Barack Obama charging that Tehran continued to engage in “destabilizing activities.”
Yet Zarif argued that such concerns were misplaced because Iran spent less than a tenth of what Saudi Arabia spends on military hardware.
Saudi Arabia and Iran are locked in an escalating row and on Tuesday Riyadh accused Tehran of having “a record of spreading sedition, unrest and chaos in the region.”
But Zarif urged the Saudis not to choose conflict.
“I think our Saudi neighbors need to understand that confrontation is in the interests of no one,” he said.
Addressing the Saudis directly, Zarif said: “There is no reason to panic, my friends.
“Iran is there to work with you, Iran does not want to exclude anybody from this region,” he said.
Zarif said he had been asked several times to break off diplomatic relations with Saudi Arabia and had refused each time.
“There is no need to engage in a confrontation. Iran has been provoked time and again.”
He vowed that those responsible for an arson attack on Saudi Arabia’s embassy in Tehran on January 2 — which led to Riyadh breaking off diplomatic ties — would be prosecuted.
Earlier Wednesday, Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei publicly condemned the attack for the first time, calling it “a very bad and wrong incident.”